Hands holding a mobile device and placing a food order

Mobile Ordering: Is it Right for You?

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 presents to their customers and their operation.

Smartphones are everywhere, and the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 State of the Industry report shows 63 percent of smartphone users place takeout or delivery orders using mobile technology. Despite that number, only 37 percent of restaurants—many of them franchises or chains—offer mobile ordering. 

If you haven’t considered mobile ordering technology, you could be missing a share of what Business Insider Intelligence predicts will be $38 billion in sales by 2020. Gordon Food Service Commercial Segment Manager Doug Owens spoke with Shiva Srinivasan, the founder of restaurant mobile technology company Zuppler, to better understand the opportunity for operators: 

Is mobile ordering necessary?

Doug Owens (DO): Why does a restaurant need mobile ordering? 
Shiva Srinivasan (SS): About 85 percent of all restaurant customers have a smartphone, and they are comfortable purchasing things online. So, if customers can find restaurant websites through their mobile device, they are going to want to order online through a mobile-friendly website. If they can’t order this way, the restaurant is going to lose out on business from these customers. That’s why it’s so critical now.

What does it mean to a foodservice operation?

DO: How does mobile ordering benefit their business? 
SS: Geolocation on mobile devices will alert customers about nearby dining and even provide a link to restaurant sites. Once there, they are engaged customers, ones you could lose without mobile ordering. With that easy ordering interface, you’re going to see an automatic rise in takeout business. 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?

DO: Foodservice operators can use mobile-responsive sites and mobile apps. Which is best?
SS: Mobile responsive sites and mobile apps are fundamentally different. One helps people find your restaurant and the other is for regular customers. 

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 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 and alerts directly to customers.

Both a mobile responsive website and a mobile app are critical. But I would first invest in a mobile responsive website.

Subhead: When will mobile ordering pay off?

DO: So I am thinking about adding mobile ordering. How long will it take for my foodservice operation to see the return on the investment? 
SS: It’s fairly quick. Once you choose a vendor, you should be up and running, on average, in about four weeks. The site must have all the information the user needs. Remember, people eat with their eyes, so pictures and galleries are important. You also need to make sure to update all of the online directories. You should see traffic automatically increase and more business coming in. Within six weeks, you could see return on investment.

What’s my next step?

DO: If an operator decides mobile ordering is a good fit, what questions should I ask potential vendors?
SS: They are providing a business service, so make sure they are right for your sales and service goals:

  • 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 existing operator solutions like reservations and point of sale?
  • Can you provide references for past work?

All questions should lead to maximizing online visibility. 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 the user goes to access restaurant information, they can get to your website.