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Click to Order

By Vicki Powers Contributing Editor - 03/01/2007

First, customers had to walk inside to place their orders, even the to-go ones. Then, they started driving up to a window, but still waited in line. Next, they picked up the phone and called ahead. Today, customers are placing orders from their computer terminals before ever leaving their offices or homes.

Online ordering offers convenience to the customer and the restaurant, especially during peak meal times. An increasing number of casual dining restaurants are moving beyond the "take-out/to go" market and giving customers the chance to order from a Web site Ã.‚¬" as early as that morning or even the day before.

Lunch time, for example, is extremely busy at Charlie's Bar-B-Que and Catering in Bellaire, Texas, located right outside Houston. Customers would call at 11:30 a.m. to place a lunch order to go, right during the busy lunch rush. 

"We were putting people on hold and not being as polite as we wanted because of the crowds," says Stathy Demeris, owner and president, Charlie's Bar-B-Que.  "Now when people call, we can refer them to our Web site to place an order. I started online ordering more because of the convenience for the customer. People are more computer savvy now."

To assist first-timers looking for insights and advice with their online ordering solutions, HT talked to restaurants with experience with the technology. Here's what we found out.

Financial gains
Online ordering can save in manpower costs, says Timmy Yan, general manager of CyBelle's Front Room, a San Francisco-based full-service restaurant with New York-style pizza, steaks, seafood and burgers. When restaurants believe they might need to hire a second dedicated phone employee, online ordering is a good tool that costs much less than an actual person.

Yan worked with WL Information Services Inc. ( ) to create a custom online ordering program for CyBelle's. He was interested in this option because it works with his POS system. Online orders come from his receipt printer, and employees manually enter the order into the POS system. 

"I didn't like the fax option for orders because our fax is in the office area, not the order area," Yan says. "It also ties up the phone line when faxes come in."

Jason's Deli, owned by Texas-based Deli Management Inc. with 140 locations in Texas and 20 states, realized it was more cost effective to outsource its online ordering after co-developing and hosting its own online ordering platform since 1998. Jason's Deli partnered with Dallas-based orderTalk ( ) to host its online ordering system. After evaluating many solution providers, Lee Greer, marketing director at Jason's Deli, says orderTalk was the most flexible and easy to use.

"Outsourcing alleviates lots of pain," Greer states. The hardware requirements aren't necessary, he says, as well as the manpower to continue developing and improving the system.

Greer also points to an online ordering system's ability to offer additional menu items, toppings, etc. to customers. Up-selling helped increase the online ticket at Jason's Deli an average of 20 percent higher than similar phone orders.

In addition, online ordering should be considered as a part of a broader marketing strategy. Many online ordering technology solutions capture customer data from each order that can be used to market special offers and coupons to those same customers in the future, for example.

The easier the better
Demeris recommends restaurant owners visit various online menus as they consider which technology or provider to use for their own online ordering. He perused many menus to test ease of use before selecting Big Holler ( ), provider of his online ordering solution. "If it's not easy, I don't want it," Demeris says. Charlie's Bar-B-Que has received new customers through online ordering Ã.‚¬" and kept them because the process is easy. Customers click from the menu item on the left, and it moves ordered food to a "traditional" guest receipt area on the right that resembles the paper checks from long ago. Pick up orders have increased 15 percent since Charlie's Bar-B-Que started online ordering five months ago.

Ease of use played a big part in Yan's decision for online ordering, too. His online menu is directly on his Web site, and customers click on the menu items they want to purchase. Menu items are then placed in a shopping cart similar to other online retail sites. Orders are received less than one minute after they are sent, and each customer receives a call within 15 minutes to confirm the order.

"Ease of use plays a big part in the number of orders we receive from the Web," Yan says. CyBelle's online orders have increased from three per day to about 10 per day since it started this option more than a year ago.

Added benefits
It's been eight months since Andrew McGuire, owner of Chicago's La Gondola Italian Restaurant, has paid for any adverting. He used to spend hundreds of dollars monthly just on a phone book ad. Now, McGuire uses Foodler ( ), a network of online restaurants currently available in six cities that advertises through online search engines.

McGuire says this system is more affordable and more effective. "I don't pay anything until an order comes through. And the people it attracts are the people I want Ã.‚¬" those who pay higher tickets."

Customers access Foodler's home page and are presented with a list of restaurants that offer delivery and take-out in their zip code. McGuire says the delivery region is very precise Ã.‚¬" within feet of restaurants that will deliver in a customer's zip code. Restaurants pay a 5 percent fee for each order that comes in. Unless orders are coming in, they pay nothing.

Customers order online through Foodler and the orders are faxed directly to the restaurant. E-mail confirmations are also received at the same time as the fax.

Since adding its online menu to Foodler's Web site in June 2006, La Gondola's has discovered that 60 percent to 70 percent of new customers find the restaurant because of its online presence. "I advise anyone who delivers food that this is a win-win situation," McGuire says.  "We're at the beginning of the wave of the future."