Mobile Ordering: Is it Right for You?

Smartphone in a person's hand

Technology lets restaurant customers connect and order long before they walk in your doors.

Mobile devices give people the ability to access information, shop, place orders and pay any time. They embrace this technology more and more. For restaurants, who make money by understanding what people like, now is a good time to consider the value mobile technology can add to your operation.

Smartphones are everywhere, and suddenly they are part of the customer experience. According to Restaurants Canada research, 49% of restaurant customers use their smartphones or tablets to look up directions/locations/hours of operation. Of those people, 24% use their devices to order takeout or delivery—a number that’s more likely to grow as technology advances. 

Gordon Food Service Marketing Services Manager Scott McDeivitte says the growth of mobile technology shouldn’t be overlooked. Mobile ordering capabilities may not be right for every operator, but it’s something no operator can dismiss without considering potential impacts.

Is mobile ordering necessary?

So why does a restaurant need mobile ordering? First, McDeivitte points out, smartphone ownership is growing rapidly. In 2014, just over half of Canadians owned a smartphone. By the start of 2018, that percentage was up to 76%, according to catalyst.ca. 

People are comfortable using smartphones to look up information and make purchases. If you’re one of the eight in 10 operators who use social media to build awareness, you know customers are not only looking up your menu on their mobile device, they are expecting the ability to order online through a mobile-friendly website. McDeivitte notes that If they can’t order this way, the restaurant could lose out on business. That’s why mobile ordering is so critical now.

What does it mean to a foodservice operation?

Mobile ordering capabilities offer other business benefits as well. Geolocation (identifying the location of a person using the internet connection of their mobile device) on mobile devices can alert customers about nearby dining and even provide a link to restaurant sites. Once there, they become engaged customers, McDeivitte says, ones you could lose without mobile ordering.

Because people like things that are simple, an easy ordering interface means you’re likely to see a rise in takeout business, he says. Even a Google business listing has an option for online ordering. Mobile ordering gets eyeballs to your business and gives you a chance to make a sale.

A site or an app … what’s the difference?

In addition to mobile-responsive sites, there also are mobile apps. Each one has the ability to increase business, but with a different audience. One helps new customers find your restaurant and the other helps regular customers stay in touch. 

  • Mobile responsive websites work best for smartphone users searching for a nearby restaurant. When they find your site, it needs to be optimized to that mobile device so it’s easy for the customer to order. If your website is not mobile responsive, it gets downgraded on organic searches (when someone enters a search term in a search engine, such as Google) and is not easily found.  
  • Mobile apps are important for loyal customers who order frequently. They aren’t searching for restaurants; they want to order directly from you. Apps also allow you to send push notifications (messages that pop up on someone’s mobile device) and alerts directly to customers.

Both a mobile responsive website and a mobile app are critical, McDeivitte says. As a first choice, he recommends investing in a mobile responsive website.

When will investing in mobile ordering pay off?

One reason restaurants may be hesitant to invest in a mobile ordering platform is cost. Companies that create mobile platforms are providing a business service, which has a cost associated with it. Foodservice operators wonder how long will it take to see a return on their investment. The answer, McDeivitte says, is “quicker than you think.”

Once you choose a vendor, it takes about four weeks to get up and running. It’s your job is to make sure the site has all the information the user needs. Remember, McDeivitte says, people eat with their eyes, so pictures and galleries are important. You also need to make sure to update all of the online directories. Do all of that and you should see traffic automatically increase and more business coming in. Within six weeks, you could see a return on your investment.

What’s my next step?

If you have decided mobile ordering is a good fit for your restaurant, there are a number of options available. Vendors need to have the right tools for your sales and service goals. McDeivitte suggests asking these questions:

  • Do you have experience with restaurants?
  • Do you have samples of sites you’ve built similar to what I’m looking for?
  • Will this site integrate with my existing tools and technologies, like my reservation and point of sale systems?
  • Can you provide references for past work?

All questions should lead to maximizing online visibility, he says. A website provider will make sure a restaurant’s content is updated all over the web—a Google business listing, Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc.—so no matter where users look for your restaurant online, they can find it.