Can online ordering and pickup really help build business?

Not every customer you have always wants to dine in. Thoughtful takeout can turn that to your advantage.

As a general rule, businesses focus on their most profitable customers, whether they realize it or not.

That focus is a paradox of successful business in that it's correct and yet also sows the seeds that can undermine a business, as 'lower-end' customers become less engaged and eventually move on to other options. They're possible customers for a competitor or a new entrant.

(For an interesting read on this subject, consider The Great Disruption from March 2001 Foreign Affairs.)

In a place like New York, in Manhattan, where there are endless opportunities to build and renew clientele this can be chalked up to 'not catching every fish in the sea'. But in slower-paced environments, restaurant success can hinge on forging a deeper connection to a wider strata of customers.

Some of those customers are your takeout customers, or your would-be takeout customers. Many traditional 'sit-down' restaurants can seize a business opportunity by making the most of these customers who don't always eat in.

WHY TAKE IT HOME?

A gregarious in-house party of four might be an 'ideal' group of customers. And your restaurant and staff might be geared to provide an optimal experience for just such a table.

But that table of four might sometimes be just two. Sometimes it might be just one, picking up food, to go. How well does your restaurant manage that transition?

Customers want takeout food for many reasons. Some are plainly obvious such as to replace a meal they don't have time or technique to make themselves.

Other reasons are more subtle.

Customers that are eating alone on a particular day might want to order food to-go. Few people feel comfortable eating alone in a restaurant, especially one with a social setting or at busy times.

Other customers order takeout when there's any reason that makes them just want to stay in. This can be as variable as bad weather or because the new episode of a buzz-worthy show is on.

Customers also think about takeout when they want to spend less.

An overlooked aspect of takeout is that it's a quiet, inbuilt discount - not on your food or restaurant - but on what the customer has to spend. Most takeout customers are well aware that they will save themselves the cost of a tip as well as potential sundry costs such as a second round of beverages they order while lingering at a table.

For families with children, this can be even more acute. It's not uncommon to have adults that eat in with friends or each other but prefer to order takeout for family meals.

Whatever the reasons, it's beneficial to understand that these different interactions are a natural part of any customer base. And keeping your clientele fully engaged might mean finding ways to fit the varied business they want to do with you.

As an example - though an older, corporate one - in 2000 the Outback chain started offering curbside pickup of orders. It was a novel idea at the time and was motivated by the fact that many adults were ordering to-go meals for children and it was a burden for a mom or dad to unpack everyone from the car just to go inside and wait for a pickup order.

The change was an immediate success, with Outback logging $104 million in curbside sales in the first year (2000). By 2005 that number has grown to $274 million, with curbside-specific sales making up 11% of the chain's total US revenue.

BUILDING BUSINESS BEYOND YOUR DOOR

When expanding your clientele is costly or options for doing so are limited, takeout can help you do more business with the customers you already have access to.

Takeout doesn't have to be a large part either. Several orders - or several more orders - each night make a substantial difference on an annualized basis.

A primary obstacle to doing more takeout with a full-service type of restaurant is simply to let customers know that you offer food to go.

An OrdrUs online menu is a good fit for this, because many of your current customers already browse your web site for things like your hours or phone number. When you add an ordering button to your site, customer will notice it and start to use it - even if just poking around at first.

Any promotion you do can also include a mention of your service or a direct link to your menu - which is one way to distribute your online menu without having to print up paper versions that may be both expensive and not the image you want to project for your restaurant.

TAKEOUT WITHOUT TAKING OVER

Full-service menus often have items that don't travel well or cannot be well-prepared to be eaten later on, at home. Restaurants are understandably reluctant to prepare those items to go, but that doesn't have to stop you from offering takeout.

One benefit of a changeable, online menu is that it doesn't have to precisely mirror your in-house menu. Some restaurants get excellent results with an abbreviated to-go menu that includes only the items they feel comfortable serving to go.

Because families often order to-go, a special online focus on your kid's or child's menu can be a good idea.

Kid's menus are generally narrow and minimal, but long-term specials such as 'upgraded' versions of a hamburger or mac n' cheese (etc.) can build instant appeal for children. And children are very effective at deciding where parents will order from!

Lastly, if your location does takeout infrequently, it's especially important to have a simple, well-defined workflow for handling it. This means not only how the order gets to the kitchen and comes out, but proper protocol for greeting a guest and packing their order.

In our experience, the vast majority of gripes with takeout orders have to do with operational issues such as a guest not understanding where to go to pickup, or whom to pay - as well as packing issues or forgotten items or sundries.

Contact us if you have any questions about doing more or better takeout. We're happy to share the insights from our vantage point and to demonstrate how an OrdrUs menu can help you accomplish the goals I've outlined above.

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