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Updated Oct 20, 2023

Does My Restaurant Need to Offer Mobile Ordering to Get Ahead?

Offering mobile order-ahead options can be an effective strategy to give your restaurant a competitive edge.

Leslie Pankowski headshot
Leslie Pankowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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National chains like Starbucks, Chipotle, Taco Bell and McDonald’s were the first to popularize online and mobile ordering. However, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted restaurants of all sizes to implement mobile order-ahead options. What started as a way to keep customers and employees safe became an indispensable convenience. 

Whether you’re just starting a restaurant or own an established eatery, you have several mobile order-ahead options depending on your business’s size, needs and goals. We’ll explore mobile ordering platforms and apps to help restaurant owners understand their options and choose a solution to help their businesses grow. 

What are the benefits of mobile ordering?

Restaurant owners today understand that mobile ordering shows no signs of slowing down. According to the State of Food & Drink on Mobile 2022 report, time spent on food and drink mobile apps grew 65 percent from the beginning of 2021 to the first quarter of 2022. 

Additionally, according to Deloitte’s 2022 Food Service Market Monitor, customers are spending more time on digital platforms and prefer cashless transactions, making mobile ordering a no-brainer for many restaurants seeking a competitive advantage and long-term restaurant business growth. 

Here are some of the top benefits of implementing a mobile ordering system:  

  • Can bring in more customers: Mobile ordering can fuel business growth. For example, Starbucks’ mobile order and pay option accounted for more than 26 percent of orders in the fourth quarter of 2021. Customers who value convenience and speed use mobile ordering apps. 
  • Appeals to established customers: Mobile ordering apps can encourage your target customers to order more frequently or try new menu items. Features that encourage frequent orders include loyalty programs, push notifications and gamification elements like reaching new levels.
  • Appeals to thrifty customers: Consumers like convenience and saving money. Mobile ordering apps provide numerous opportunities to offer coupons, promotions or rewards to customers. These options also encourage repeat business. 
  • Encourages bigger orders: Customers tend to order more via mobile apps. They have the privacy to choose what and how much they want and no one is waiting impatiently behind them to place their order. 
  • Reduces kitchen bottlenecks: Mobile ordering can reduce bottlenecks in your kitchen. The staff has more time to prep and fulfill food orders coming through mobile apps because there’s more time built into the process between customer order and pickup.
  • Protects employees and customers: Mobile ordering reduces the need for face-to-face interactions between staff and customers. This protects against illness and lessens the likelihood of negative interactions.  
Drive repeat business to your restaurant by pairing mobile order-ahead apps with coupons, discounts, special offers and customer loyalty programs.

What are the downsides of mobile ordering?

While mobile order-ahead options provide numerous benefits to restaurants, there are also some drawbacks to be aware of, including the following:

  • Mobile ordering encourages customers to try new eateries: Customers who use mobile-ordering platforms like Uber Eats and DoorDash often seek variety. While they may help you find first-time customers, these customers may only order from your restaurant once. Their customer loyalty is likely with the platform, not a particular restaurant. 
  • Mobile ordering may eat into your profits: If you’re using a mobile ordering platform like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats, they’ll charge you a specific percentage of your delivery. If you create your own mobile ordering system, you may also have to invest in an e-commerce website and a proprietary application.
  • Mobile ordering may disrupt peak business times: If your restaurant is understaffed and experiences peak in-person business, keeping up with mobile orders may overwhelm your team. 
  • Restaurants may want to avoid dealing with mobile order technology: Some restaurant owners may find the idea of developing a mobile app overwhelming. They also may not want to get involved with platforms like DoorDash.  
Did You Know?Did you know
Before you start your search, it helps to have at least general knowledge about how credit card processing works.

Options and alternatives for mobile-ordering apps

Your restaurant can implement mobile order-ahead options in several ways. Owners can choose the method that best suits the business’s needs, budget and goals.

1. Join an order-ahead aggregator to implement mobile ordering.

Order-ahead aggregators, such as DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats, are mobile app platforms that work with many restaurants. They help customers find multiple order-ahead and delivery options in their area. 

Aggregator benefits for restaurants include: 

  • Potentially lower costs: Working with an aggregator can be less expensive than building a proprietary app. 
  • Finding new customers: Aggregators expose your business to new customers and help generate new business. Aggregator platforms like Uber Eats or DoorDash can create awareness for your restaurant among first-time customers. 

Aggregator downsides include: 

  • May not foster repeat business: Aggregators will lump your restaurant in with local competitors. You may garner first-time business but not necessarily repeat customers. 
  • Aggregators charge fees: While aggregators may not cost as much as an investment in creating a proprietary app or building a business website for your restaurant, you’ll pay a percentage of your sales.

2. Use your POS provider’s white-label app for mobile ordering.

Some point-of-sale companies, including Clover, TouchBistro and Toast, offer generic mobile apps for online ordering that you can customize with your branding. These “white-label apps,” also called third-party apps, may be included in your package. 

These apps are easy to implement and ready to use. They’ve been developed and tested and will integrate seamlessly with your POS system. The drawback is that if you switch POS providers, you’ll have to find a new mobile ordering solution. 

Did You Know?Did you know
The best POS systems can facilitate online ordering and help make the process seamless. Read our Toast review to learn about a great all-in-one POS system for your restaurant.

3. Design a proprietary mobile app for your restaurant’s orders.

Some restaurants build dedicated mobile apps to gain control over their customers’ mobile-ordering experience. Advantages include: 

  • No mention of your competitors
  • Designed with your restaurant’s brand 
  • Personalized based on customer research and feedback
  • Customized with menu updates, loyalty programs, rewards and gamification features

Proprietary apps are ideal for catering to and fostering repeat customers and shifting brand and platform loyalty to your restaurant. You won’t have to pay a vendor for every order and customers will pay fewer fees for delivery and pickup orders.

The downside to building a proprietary restaurant app is that the cost of app development can be quite high. However, you can use a do-it-yourself app maker or work with a lower-cost professional developer to mitigate costs. 

Some restaurants work with aggregators to attract new business and use a proprietary app to communicate with customers and cater to the needs of their established base.

Considerations when selecting a mobile ordering option

Restaurant owners have various factors to consider when selecting the best mobile ordering option to fit their needs. 

  • How much time and money will a mobile ordering solution incur? Restaurant owners should consider the costs involved when implementing a mobile ordering option, including fees, the time you and your employees will invest and the expected short- and long-term ROI.
  • How will mobile ordering affect employees? Consider how your team will experience the mobile ordering solution. They’ll need employee training and support. It’s crucial that your mobile ordering structure helps them perform their jobs well, not hinder their ability to serve customers. Consider which employees should handle various aspects of the mobile ordering process. You may decide to invest in a new employee with the skills and experience needed.
  • How will mobile ordering affect customers? Your customers will consider your solution’s fees, ease of use, options, speed and reviews. Their initial experience will affect whether they’ll order from your restaurant again. Weigh your options and decide if a more expensive option with an excellent customer interface is better than a less expensive option with a mediocre customer interface. 

Use mobile ordering technology to boost profits and growth

Mobile-ordering apps can help restaurants grow, cater to customers and foster repeat business. They’re becoming less of a strategy and more of a necessity to ensure an establishment’s survival and capacity to thrive and compete for customers long-term. 

Consider the needs of your team and customers before deciding on a mobile ordering solution to ensure everyone’s experience is enhanced, not complicated.

Leslie Pankowski headshot
Leslie Pankowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Marketing expert and small business owner Leslie Pankowski has spent nearly 30 years guiding companies through their advertising efforts. Her consultative services include market analysis, audience analysis, media proposals, campaign effectiveness and more. She is skilled at using data analytics to drive business decisions, developing strategic partnerships and drafting communications plans. Pankowski has taught marketing concepts and best practices to the next generation of business leaders at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business (from which she holds an MBA), the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College and at Marymount University. She is also passionate about business leadership and talent management and has served as a consultant for the executive staffing company vChief.
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