Restaurant Online Ordering, once a nice to have for some additional revenue, has now become the only means for restaurant survival in the face of dining bans and lockdowns. Upserve has been working tirelessly to fortify our Online Ordering product while making it as widely accessible as possible. From February to April we saw a 169% increase in the number of restaurants actively using Online Ordering with Upserve as restaurants quickly innovated and pivoted to takeout and delivery, paired with an 840% increase in weekly sales via online ordering.

While our industry has been significantly wounded, the innovation, creativity, and sheer survival instincts we’ve seen in our customers is incredibly inspiring. Looking at data from our nearly 10,000 US-based customers, we saw that a handful of restaurants were not only surviving but meeting or exceeding pre-COVID-19 sales levels despite having zero dine-in revenue. Below we dig into the Online Ordering trends we’re seeing in our data, along with stories from customers who have been able to return to nearly 100% of pre-COVID-19 sales.

Online ordering growth in different geographic markets compared to average February sales.

Adoption of Restaurant Online Ordering is growing

  • From February to April Upserve has seen a 169% increase in restaurants using online ordering.
  • This is not a regional or urban trend. Per the graph above we are seeing an uptick in online orders in all types of geographic areas. In large suburbs, online ordering has grown 3,868% since February.
  • In February, Online Ordering represented 1.5% of total sales volume for Upserve restaurants now using our online ordering platform. By early April, Online Ordering represented 43% of total sales volume for restaurants with Online Ordering enabled.
  • Because dine-in service is restricted nationally, the remainder of sales at those Upserve Online Ordering stores were processed through 3rd party delivery aggregators and direct-to-restaurant communication (phone, email, Instagram).

Restaurant recovery is slow but building

  • As of April 8, 27% of restaurants showed an upward sales trend over the previous week, according to Upserve’s data.
  • As of April 20, 7% of restaurants using Online Ordering were either not impacted by COVID (in terms of sales) or have recovered to more than 60% of February sales.

Restaurants already doing Online Ordering fared better in the first weeks of the dining ban

  • Many restaurants who already offered online ordering pre-COVID were able to avoid having to close altogether, saving them up to a month’s worth of revenue. While they did see a drop in sales, they did not ever experience a 100% revenue loss.
  • Because restaurants that used online ordering pre-COVID were able to skip the rush to enable OLO, onboard, set up a menu, and spread the word to diners, they were uniquely prepared to capture customers during the first waves of social distancing.

Most popular menu items of restaurants recovering from the Coronavirus Pandemic

  • Stores with close to pre-COVID sales numbers have more “COVID” related items on their menu like gift cards, family meals, and beverages (likely alcohol).
  • Across restaurants, we’re also seeing gift cards, alcoholic beverages, and meals for 2 or 4 are trending upwards.
  • Building your online guest experience is more than just creating a list of item names. Restaurants that took the time to add a custom banner on their Upserve Online Order menu page had 60% higher sales last weekend.

Takeout surpasses delivery during Coronavirus Pandemic

  • Upserve has seen that for sales through Online Ordering, takeout orders are far more popular than delivery orders, and this popularity has been increasing since COVID began. While delivery orders represented 32% of all online orders in February, as of April 20, delivery only accounts for 14% of online orders. So while more Upserve restaurants opted for OLO, less were using delivery as a tactic.
  • This may be due to restaurants pivoting quickly to online ordering without lining up delivery partners. It may also suggest that restaurants are processing more delivery orders through third parties, and takeout orders through UOLO.

Upserve Online Ordering: To-go vs. Delivery

Philanthropic menu items can boost revenue

  • A few stores have recovered revenue by offering meals for donation to frontline workers or other non-profits through their OLO menu.
  • 3 Magnets Brewing in Olympia, WA offers $10 boxed meals for a local shelter that their customers can “sponsor.”
  • La Catrina in Boston is offering a “buy one get two” burrito special that allows customers to sponsor meals for front-line healthcare workers.

Restaurant Recovery Success Stories

One of our customers who has managed to return to pre-COVID sales is Aloha Eats in Chicago. Ivan Lee and his family opened Aloha Eats in 2004, serving Hawaiian comfort food. Now that comfort at a distance is in demand, they’ve switched entirely to Upserve Online Ordering and haven’t looked back. “We’re putting Upserve OLO through its paces and seeing what it’s capable of, and the fact that we’re not paying an interloper third-party to take a fee keeps more money in our pocket during such a critical time for our business.”

Prior to COVID-19, Aloha Eats took an occasional take out order by phone. But after Chicago’s dining ban, they were able to leverage their Upserve platform to create an Online Ordering menu that was live in less than 24 hours. “Using Upserve OLO has kept us afloat,” said Lee. “People want no-contact takeout and delivery now. When you do it online, you’re pre-paying and you can maintain the distance from our customers.” This means less to sanitize, less risk for his employees, and less risk for customers.

Aloha Eats also was one of the first customers to take advantage of Upserve’s free Online Ordering Facebook ads to spread the word about their new takeout and delivery menu. In less than a week they got an additional 775 visits to their menu and nearly 24,000 impressions from local diners. “We’ve been doing well, considering the state of everything,” Lee said. “We had a record Sunday this week. Getting the word out on Facebook seemed to help.”

“Upserve has really helped us,” he said. “We’re such a small business, we employ less than 15 people, so the fact that we were able to get Online Ordering up so quickly is great. We count ourselves lucky to stay open and keep our staff in place. We were one of the first in Chicago to use Upserve and I recommend it to other Chicago restaurants. It’s been all thumbs up on our end.”

Data for this report was pulled by Liz McDonnell and David Stube.