10 User Experience Strategies for Restaurants Looking to Increase Online Orders

Liam Burns
Written by Liam Burns
October 21, 2020

Restaurant delivery and online ordering has shown steady growth in popularity over the past few years.

The pandemic, however, has skyrocketed demand for online food ordering – whether pickup or delivery.

Revenue from online ordering in the United States has grown by 20.2% year-over-year to $26.5 million. By 2024, online restaurant revenue is expected to increase to $32.3 million.

Many restaurants that hadn’t prioritized online ordering before the pandemic scrambled to get things in order. Today, with indoor capacity and foot traffic still down, a seamless user experience is critical for staying afloat and thriving.

Your restaurant should focus on creating a seamless digital experience – from browsing menu items and locations to placing an order and checking out.

Any small hiccup in the app or website experience could drive away customers before you even realize you’ve lost revenue.


Boost Conversions with 10 Strategies to Deliver Seamless Online Ordering Experiences

Unless you carefully monitor every website and app interaction, it’s impossible to see where problems arise in your digital experience. Most restaurant websites deal with such high volume, they can’t fix user experience issues until after they’ve lost thousands of sales.

Understanding how customers interact with your website is key to solving problems in real-time as they happen instead of retroactively.

1. Simplify Your Onboarding and Checkout Process

People often start placing a restaurant order after they already feel hungry.

The last thing anyone wants to do when they’re hungry is fill out a form and go through a lengthy registration process.

Always offer a guest checkout option so customers don’t have to register. Only ask for vital information like a name and phone number to track the order.

Make sure your necessary form fields are optimized as well:

  • Use Google/Apple autocomplete as much as possible.
  • Provide text input fields (instead of drop-down menus) for dates.
  • Include a progress bar so customers can see how long the process will take.

You can always prompt customers to complete their registration process after they’ve finished their order.

Domino’s sticks with one piece of information per screen and automates the process as much as possible:

2. Use Your Own Ordering System

While apps like Uber Eats and DoorDash are convenient and important for marketing in many ways, it’s smart to create your brand’s own ordering infrastructure.

Not only does it help you avoid commission fees, but it also puts you in control of the design and user experience. You’re at the mercy of third-party app developers and designers when you rely on them for your online ordering process.

Lots of third-party ordering apps don’t offer the most optimized descriptions and images. Some only provide a title for the dish and nothing more.

Plus, creating your own ordering infrastructure means you can incorporate branding throughout the entire checkout process.

3. Offer an Intuitive Search to Improve User Experience

Sometimes, customers won’t know which category a dish falls into. An intuitive search feature can ensure they find what they’re looking for.

Panera’s search first offers suggestions based on popular searches from previous visitors:

By searching “cheese,” the customer gets results where cheese is the dish’s central focus. By expanding their search, Panera shows every item that contains cheese:

Remember, you want to make ordering as easy as possible. Use technology to streamline menu browsing and ordering anywhere you can.

4. Don’t Overdo It with Categories

Have you ever looked at a menu and felt so overwhelmed you didn’t know where to start?

This causes less of an issue in-person where customers have already settled into a table. Online, however, customers can simply hit the back button if your menu looks confusing.

Break up your menu into about six categories and give customers the option to look deeper. See how Chipotle uses six straightforward categories:

McDonald’s also provides a simplified menu first with only a handful of categories. Customers can click “view full menu” if they want a more detailed look at what’s inside each category.

Even if you offer hundreds of menu items, customers should find it easy to navigate your offerings. You might even consider reducing the number of items you offer to online audiences.

5. Shoot for a Minimalist Design and Single-Purpose Homepage

Think about the reasons someone might visit your homepage. 99% of the time, they either want to place an order, view your menu, or find a location. Your website should be designed to meet those specific purposes right away.

Ruby Tuesday visitors are greeted with a streamlined design and only a handful of choices.

Popeyes provides an optimal user experience by keeping a single topic on each fold. First, users are greeted with two ordering buttons for pickup or delivery.

Scrolling further down, customers can browse coupons and other topics. Each topic receives full attention as the user scrolls.

6. Include a Concise Description and Photos

Even loyal customers won’t remember exactly what each dish on your menu entails. Unfortunately, some ordering apps only provide the names of dishes without any description or photos.

Descriptions are important. Not only do they explain what the dish includes, but they also include tantalizing adjectives and function as marketing tools.

At the same time, many customers will be placing their orders on small mobile screens. You don’t want lengthy descriptions to take up valuable screen real estate.

Include a brief description of just a few words. Give customers a button or tab to expand if they want to learn more.

Carrabba’s includes a brief yet effective description and customers can click to see more information:

High-quality photos are also critical for improving your user experience. Popeyes knocks it out of the park with their images: The food looks perfect and their signature orange sweeps the background. Their menu just lacks some description.

7. Suggest Relevant Upsells and Add-ons

Remember the days when you’d call the pizza shop to order and they’d ask if you wanted to add breadsticks or a soda? Or when you’d place an order at the burger place and they’d ask if you’d like to upgrade to deluxe combo meal?

You can do the same thing online.

Up your user experience by taking data from their order offering relevant additions. You might also recommend discounts on upsells based on how much the customer is already spending.

When a customer adds an item to their cart, Panera seamlessly asks if they’d like to add a drink. Note how they include irresistible photos of the beverages:

8. Personalize Based on Their Previous Orders

It’s important to trim time off your ordering process wherever you can.

Lots of customers no doubt order the same thing each time. You don’t have to preselect everything for them without asking, but you should give them the choice.

When customers log in, ask right away if they’d like to repeat an earlier order and let them pick which one. Make sure to ask if they want to make any changes.

You could also use previous order data to make suggestions on new menu items. For example, if a customer typically orders a BBQ chicken meal, you might suggest your new BBQ chicken pizza.

9. Offer a Rewards or Point System

Point systems are valuable tools for building customer loyalty and securing repeat orders.

Make sure you keep your point system clear, easy to understand, and valuable – for both your business and customers.

Many times, restaurants allow customers to collect points but rely on the customer to remember they’ve collected their points.

What are you doing to promote your point system to existing customers?

You could:

  • Send personalized emails letting the customer know how many points they’ve earned and what they can spend them on.
  • Promote targeted Facebook posts to customers reminding them how many points they can earn on certain items.
  • Send personalized app push notifications like: you’re only 10 points away from a free combo meal!

10. Incorporate Smart Delivery Features

Location detecting technology is vital in your restaurant user experience.

When customers arrive at your website, it should immediately detect where they live and ask them to choose from the nearest location.

From there, you can supply personalized pricing, menu items, and regional dishes (if available).

Location detection also comes in handy for ordering. Notice how Domino’s automatically pulls the visitor’s zip code, city, and state.

Then Dominos takes it a step further. With Domino’s Hotspots, customers can choose a public location on the map – like parks, malls, clubs, or gas stations. This takes the burden off customers for tracking down the precise address of a park or club.


Online Ordering Takeaways for Restaurants

Restaurant customers expect seamless and speedy ordering. A hiccup or bottleneck anywhere in the process could trigger them to abandon their order and visit a competitor’s website.

Restaurants should prioritize their user experience – of both their app and website – to keep orders flowing and prevent issues. Some key strategies include:

  • Keep your onboarding and registration simple.
  • Make sure your menu is easy to navigate and clearly describes all items.
  • Implement dynamic content to personalize the experience.
  • Use intuitive search features to streamline ordering.
  • Keep your website’s purpose straightforward.
  • Personalize upsells and suggestions based on previous behavior.
  • Let customers accumulate rewards and encourage them to redeem points via push notifications.

Looking for a more in-depth user experience strategy for your online ordering portal? Download The Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Digital Experiences, which covers a simple yet effective 4-phase process specifically for enterprise companies.

Topics: Conversion Optimization, CRO, Customer Experience, User experience
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