October 20, 2021

Building a Sustainable Online Business Amidst COVID-19

Shifting your sales strategy to online has been imperative for restaurants to keep business going amidst COVID-19. Whether you’re starting up your own online store or have an existing one, there are numerous ways to maximize your online presence. We reached out to our Sapaad community and connected with three industry experts to share their experience and insights on building a sustainable online ordering operation.

COVID-19 brought on many challenges to businesses worldwide, with the F&B sector among the hardest hit. To adapt to the new business environment and continue serving their community, F&B establishments completely shifted their sales strategy to online.

Online ordering has become the main revenue-generating channel for restaurants to stay profitable.

For Daryl Saw, CEO of Singapore’s Santa Fe Tex-Mex Grill, expanding their delivery operations and setting up their own online ordering channel was a strategic way to keep business going.

Prior to the global pandemic, online ordering’s popularity had been on the rise as a way to earn additional revenue to supplement in-restaurant dining. With social distancing drives and government restrictions temporarily suspending dine-in services, online ordering has become the main revenue-generating channel for restaurants to stay profitable.

The future of dine-in remains unclear. The prospective customers are making changes to the way they order. Restaurants too need to re-align their approach factoring this in- a distinct change here being the growing use of online has been seen in post Covid customer buyer personas. To meet this higher demand among customers to order online, setting up and maintaining a sustainable online ordering operation may be the best way to ensure business continuity.

Why you should start your own online channel

Having your own online channel gives you total control over your digital store experience. You can direct every aspect from the site’s branding to the customer’s web or mobile ordering and delivery experience.

[Many] leading POS systems offer out-of-the-box solutions that can get your online store up and running in as quick as 48 hours.

While this may sound like a ton of effort, many leading POS systems offer out-of-the-box solutions that can get your online store up and running in as quick as 48 hours. And while it may come with an additional fee, it is likely to be the fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to move your business online.

“As soon as we decided to venture into [online and] delivery, I went to my POS account and enabled online ordering with one click,” Saw recalled. What’s more, orders from your own online channel are commission-free. You gain 100% of the revenue.

Your own POS-integrated online channel lets you take control of your online revenue and ensures service quality equal to what you offer in-house. Furthermore, you can stay on top of your customer engagement and gain valuable insights to make informed business decisions.

Fully-Integrated Solution

An integrated online ordering channel is built to seamlessly work with other modules already in use to streamline operations. When a customer places an online order, it automatically enters your POS system error-free and is sent straight to your kitchen, whether to a kitchen printer or kitchen display system (KDS).

There are two modules, in particular, that go hand-in-hand in boosting your online operations. These are Home Delivery Management and Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

A Delivery Manager gives you LIVE insights into your entire online ordering cycle as it happens — placement, preparation, pick-up, and delivery — and helps you optimize numerous aspects. With kitchen-to-doorstep management, you gain visibility into your operations to easily identify and address issues, ensuring optimal quality of every delivery.

Point-of-sale delivery solutions also offer a supplemental mobile application for your drivers to help with deliveries. With the app, your drivers can see which order to deliver next and to which location.

As with any online delivery, orders should go from placement to doorstep within a predefined time frame. Meeting the time constraint, however, should not come at the expense of service quality. A robust CRM helps you maintain the quality of your deliveries and also boosts customer engagement.

An in-built CRM contains extensive information about your customers, such as past orders, history, and preferences. Information from online customers — which are typically more comprehensive than their in-house counterparts — can be used to improve customer satisfaction and, ultimately, retention.

Manuel Wazen, Marketing Director of UAE-based enterprise JJ Chicken, mentions customer data as one of the biggest advantages to having your own online store.

JJ Chicken established its online store before the pandemic but now gives more importance to utilizing customer data as the bulk of their orders are processed online. “Data is now very valuable because it allows us to target customers and keep them within reach,” Wazen shares.

Redefined Customer Experience

A shift to online ordering amidst COVID-19 also requires a shift in customer experience. With social distancing drives, online ordering provides a safer alternative to dine-in and take-away through the use of online payments.

Through QR ordering (for dine-in), contact is reduced through restaurant QR ordering. Online payments require zero physical contact and reduce the risk of contagion for both your customers and drivers. With this, you can fulfill orders through contactless delivery, a COVID-19 buzzword that refers to food delivered with no physical contact between delivery drivers and customers. Your drivers can simply place the order on the doorstep and stay at a reasonable distance when your customer receives the order.

Valuable Insights & Reports

Along with customer data, your fully-integrated restaurant management solution offers extensive data and reports to guide you with strategizing the next steps of your restaurant business. Live restaurant business dashboards can give you real-time insights on your daily / weekly performance. Bestselling delivery items, popular delivery areas, and top profitable items are just a few of the many insights you gain.

This high-level visibility into your restaurant operations can be used to analyze sales trends and effectively decide on which areas to optimize.

You should strategically target the right mix of items from your menu by highlighting your bestsellers and most profitable items at the top of your store.

How to build a sustainable online presence

The best way to maximize your online ordering channel is to market it through an effective digital strategy that gives you a constant flow of online sales. This can be done by building a strong online ordering channel, attracting customers wherever they are on the web, directing them to your digital store, and encouraging them to return.

Your Own Online Ordering Channel, Your Own Brand

Your own online store is a reflection of your restaurant. A good online ordering solution should give you numerous avenues to customize the design to align with your brand. The freedom to brand their ordering page — through logos, colours, and a custom domain — is one of the reasons Siddharth Mandangarli, IT Manager of Chowking, signed up for the online ordering channel integrated with their POS.

“We opted for an online solution that met our branding needs,” Siddharth confides, “and it was very easy to set it up exactly how we wanted it.” Chowking uses their POS-integrated online channel to streamline their operations for over 20 locations across the Middle East.

By effectively leveraging social media, you open new revenue channels for your business.

Populating your online ordering page with high-quality and appetizing images, along with effective descriptions, can entice customers to consider new options to add to their cart. You should strategically target the right mix of items from your menu by highlighting your bestsellers and most profitable items at the top of your store.

Open New Revenue Channels with Social Media

Social media channels, such as Facebook and Instagram, are some of the most heavily-visited platforms by consumers. This makes them great avenues to build a strong online presence for your restaurant. By effectively leveraging social media, you can practically open new revenue channels for your business.

[Guests] can go from simply browsing your social media profiles to placing orders within a few clicks or taps.

As the marketing driving force of JJ Chicken, Wazen is no stranger to the potential of social media. “We heavily invest in social media — such as Instagram — to offer discounts and encourage customers to order directly from our website. Whenever you visit JJ Chicken’s Instagram page, you’ll see the link in our bio which sends you straight to our ordering page,” he explains.

Wazen keeps JJ Chicken’s online ordering information visible in their profiles to direct traffic from social media to their online store. By following this strategy, guests can go from simply browsing your social media profiles to placing orders within a few clicks or taps.

Aside from adding the link of your digital store to your Instagram and Facebook profiles, you can also take advantage of Facebook Messenger’s Automated Responses. By enabling it and adding your online ordering link, any customer that messages your profile will receive an auto-reply that’ll direct them to your online store, making it convenient for visitors to order from you wherever they are online.

Optimize your Digital Communication Strategy

An effective digital communication strategy will transform your strong online ordering store to a sustainable one by consistently attracting potential and existing customers. The key is to experiment as you may need to try different strategies until you find the one that works best for your restaurant.

One simple strategy is to display your latest deals and discounts on your online ordering page. This encourages customers to not only order from you but to also order more than what they initially intended.

On your social media platforms, the optimal way to attract visitors is to consistently post engaging content about your business. This can be through advertising your restaurant, offerings, promotions, or customer testimonials. We’ve listed a few suggestions to help plan out your strategy:

  • Advertise popular and profitable items available for delivery.
  • Highlight new promotions like reduced delivery fees and minimum order amounts.
  • Reassure customers on the health and safety precautions of your restaurant by being transparent about your sanitation and disinfection procedures.
  • Include your phone number and online ordering link in every post to encourage direct sales.
  • Have an open discussion with customers on how they can support your restaurant business and where you’d prefer them to order from.

Build a Loyal Fanbase

It’s no secret that the most powerful method to market your business is through word-of-mouth. In the era of virtual dining, rise of online communities and social media, it’s vital to maintain relationships with your customers both offline and online, to keep them coming back.

Simple gestures such as a personal message to thank them for ordering goes a long way in strengthening engagement and experience. You can then encourage them to share their experience by either replying or tagging your restaurant on social media.

Santa Fe’s Instagram highlights are filled with customer stories tagging their IG handle. “A recommendation is worth ten times more than an advertisement. Every post, share, like, and comment counts,” Saw reveals.

“Your customers can order directly from you and you have full control over everything. Plus, you don’t need to give any commission. So if you can, push customers to order directly from your online store.”

You can also offer incentives for returning customers through the use of a loyalty system. Wazen shares that they utilize their POS system’s in-built loyalty module to offer rewards straight from JJ Chicken’s online store.

Typically, integrated loyalty programs are completely digital and easy for customers to join. They simply opt in with their mobile number and can instantly start earning points.

These capabilities highlight the importance of having your own online ordering store. “It’s a win-win situation for you and your customers,” Wazen remarks, “Your customers can order directly from you and you have full control over everything. Plus, you don’t need to give any commission. So if you can, push customers to order directly from your online store.”

The shift to online ordering

Whether you’re completely new to the game or are optimizing your existing online strategy, the shift might introduce you to pleasant surprises. Saw recalls how Santa Fe’s shift to online helped them achieve new records. “As a 35-seater restaurant, we would have been content with a full house of dine-in guests for Mother’s Day. But this year, we managed to serve more than a hundred online orders.”

The shift to online may have been a necessary move for your restaurant to adapt. But by taking advantage of the many tech capabilities to build a sustainable online operation, you’ll be able to sustain the shift and grow your business to new heights.

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