Running Your Restaurant Online

With every restaurant feeling the toll of Coronavirus and shifting consumer behavior, every meal becomes an opportunity – yet the stakes are so much higher. Because you can’t count on the ambiance of the restaurant, we must shift our mindset to what it means to bring the restaurant into someone’s home, via an online restaurant experience. Below are strategies and tools restaurants around the country are using to create a dining experience worth coming back for again and again.

You’re Online, Now What?

1. Wait, are you not online?

Your location no longer matters. Now everyone’s location is online. Make it easy on diners to browse your menu, craft their order, and pay by utilizing online ordering. Not only does this save on labor costs (as phone calls take longer and have more opportunity for error), it allows you to accommodate diners’ preferences.

2. Photos sell

Humans are visual creatures. When you can’t rely on sneaking a glance at a dish at the table next to you, photos are the best way to stimulate the senses. With so many options at their fingertips, adding photos to your restaurant’s online ordering site increases the likelihood diners actually make a purchase.

Where to get photos: Finally you can be thankful for the customer who spent 10 minutes getting just the right photo of their meal. If you don’t have the budget or time for professional photos of all your dishes, your customers have your back! Look for photos on Yelp and other review sites and tagged photos on Instagram or Facebook. This can help you build your restaurant’s photo library quickly.

running your restaurant online

 

Example: The pictures on Maxie B’s website help the cakes sell themselves, which allows the bakery to process nearly 1,000 orders during their busiest months using Upserve Online Ordering. That’s a whole lot of cake.

 

running your restaurant online

3. Link it up

Make your restaurant’s online ordering site really easy to find by:

  • Prominently displaying a link to online ordering on your website
  • Adding the link to your Instagram bios for fast access
  • Using the ‘Add a Button’ feature on Facebook for a clear call to action (note: most restaurants currently use this for reservations. Update it for the time being!)

running your restaurant online

Up Your Social Media Game

4. Make it personal

People want to hear from people. Share a short video with your staff to share how you’re doing, what decisions you’re making, how loyal customers can support you, and the type of experience you’ll deliver. 

 

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5. Tag power

Run a contest for a gift card to your restaurant and have followers tag two people to qualify. This can double your exposure while introducing you to potential new customers. Watch for comments like, “I’ve always wanted to try that place!” then respond with, “You can! Place an order online and this deliciousness can make social isolation 100x better.”

6. Slow? Leverage your restaurant’s staff

When you’re waiting for orders to come in, don’t just stand around! In just a minute, you can connect with at least five people on social media: follow, comment on photos, message sharing updates. Maximize labor (and harness their social savvy) by personally reaching out to your network. 

Deliver hospitality with delivery

7. Own your delivery

Give FOH staff an opportunity to take their hospitality from the restaurant directly to customers. Remember, this takes a mindset shift that the location of the restaurant has changed. (Just be sure to check with local regulations and your insurance provider before putting your employees behind the wheel!)

Delivery quality is within your control

When using delivery services, you have no idea what happens to the food once it leaves your restaurant, how it will be handled or how long it will take. 43% of restaurant professionals said they believe third-party apps interfere with the direct relationship between a restaurant/bar/pub and its customers. By using your restaurant’s staff, you have far more control over the experience.

You can keep staff employed

By using your staff for delivery, you have the opportunity to retain your best team members amidst this crisis. Not only does this impact the culture, it provides more security.

Sell gift cards to increase revenue

While delivering, ask if customers want to purchase a gift card for a future purchase. Consumers everywhere are looking for ways to help, by giving them an opportunity right at their door and you can increase revenue. This isn’t possible when using a third-party delivery service. 

8. Deliver more than food

Think about a note you can include with your delivery thanking the customer for supporting your restaurant and what it means to your business. Include a one-page menu of your most popular takeout options so next time they’re hungry they know where to go.

9. Get Them to Come Back

Consider offering a coupon or small gift card for a future purchase to remain top of mind for future ordering. If customers have already ordered from you and feel safe doing so, give them a nudge to do it again by offering an incentive. By investing in the first few experiences, you can establish your restaurant as a norm in their routines. 

How Restaurants are Pivoting to Online Ordering During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Walkers Maine: Neddick, ME

When COVID-19 began to spread through the east coast, Danielle Johnson Walker, co-owner and manager of Walkers Maine, knew her restaurant would need to shut down even before it was mandated. Despite her 25 years in the industry, she wasn’t quite sure what to do next. “I was really stressed and overwhelmed,” she said between prepping meals. “It’s one day at a time.” Johnson Walker had to cut her entire staff, leaving just her and her husband to fight for their business alone. They decided taking online orders was their last shot at keeping their restaurant alive. 

“It was a very real and scary thing,” she said. “We thought we’d put all this food into production and no one would come.” 

But they did. Johnson Walker had been using Upserve in her restaurant for years but had never done takeout or online ordering. With just her husband and herself manning the kitchen, they didn’t have time to take orders over the phone. With the help of the Upserve team, she was able to get her online ordering menu up and start taking orders online in 48 hours. 

Johnson Walker credits their first wave of online customers to her social media savvy. Posting their new menu on Facebook and Instagram was her first move after getting their online menu up. “Everyone is on social, the people who are out of work, or bored are out there on social,” she said. “I’m lucky because I’ve been doing this for 20 years and people know our reputation.”

While managing through the crisis has been challenging, pivoting to using Upserve’s online ordering platform was easy. “I’ve been telling my other restaurant friends, business owner to business owner, you NEED to put your menu online with Upserve. We really like it!” Johnson Walker said. “Our customers could call me but they found it easier to go online. I don’t have to be on the phone or run payments.” 

Another perk of online ordering? Bigger tips, and less personal contact. “People tend to leave gratuity online where they don’t in person,” Johnson Walker said. “No one wants to handle cash or touch anything so we have curbside pick up to protect ourselves and the guest.” 

Johnson Walker’s advice is to keep your menu simple and focus on what makes your guests feel good. “Use the product you already have. You have to revamp your menu to make it more manageable, especially with limited staff.” Walkers Maine also updated their menu to offer wine and drinks with a focus on family-style meals. “We’re doing mac and cheese, roasted carrots, family-style caesar salad. When you package everything for a family, then people can just hit the order button. It’s very popular. We definitely see people ordering more than once and it’s only been five days.” She’s also noticed more orders of proteins, likely due to supermarket shortages.

Walkers Maine has been so busy that Johnson Walker is considering bringing back some staff to help with all of the online orders. She is reminding other business owners that this strategy is necessary to survive the long haul and uncertainty. “This is not going to be two weeks,” she said. “You need to pivot or you’re not going to make it.” 

While Walkers Maine has instituted safe social-distancing pickup strategies, Johnson Walker says it’s a thrill to see customers, even for a few moments from six feet away. “Every time I bring the food out I get such a high!” she said. “It felt so good to be social for 10 seconds. Everyone was thanking me. I’m trying to save my business but they were thanking me. No one wants to cook, so we’re taking care of our community too. People were so grateful I couldn’t believe it.”

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Morgan is a restaurant veteran based in Providence. For nearly a decade, she has worked in the restaurant industry in server and bartender roles. As a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Morgan has pursued her passion of exploring the intersection of hospitality, technology and of course, delicious food. Her favorite travel buddies are meal sharers who enjoy being adventurous and trying something different.