While many restaurants have begun offering mobile order-ahead to their customers, many hesitate due to the operational complexities they face in developing this functionality. As daunting as it may seem, the reality is that the benefits of implementing order ahead far outweigh the challenges in its implementation: experts predict the mobile order-ahead industry could be a $38 billion industry by 2020

Not offering order-ahead to consumers means missing out on increased revenue and customer acquisition. At LevelUp, we talk with restaurateurs about these challenges on a daily basis and have helped hundreds of brands go digital. Here are the 10 most popular questions we get from restaurant partners as they weigh the option of adding mobile order-ahead.

How many categories should we have (i.e. salads, sandwiches, desserts, drinks)?

More important than trying to stick to a magic number of categories is ensuring consistency between the in-store ordering experience and your mobile ordering experience. If customers are accustomed to ordering from a specific menu format or set of categories, your mobile UX should guide customers through a similar journey.

What information should we show (product name, description, calories, pricing)?

Start by asking yourself what information drives your customers’ purchasing behavior. At the most basic level, you’ll want to include the same information that you would on an in-store menu: product name, description, pricing and calories (as mandated by the FDA). Beyond that, mobile affords many opportunities for personalization—for example, if a customer shares that he or she is vegan, you may decide to visually flag vegan-friendly items. 

Should we have photos on our menu?

Consumers increasingly value a visual ordering experience. Part of it has to do with transparency and the utility of being able to order with your eyes; another big part of it has to do with the proliferation of food photography in our social media feeds. If you have the resources and budget (not to be underestimated) to shoot images in a visually appealing way, then start snapping! Good photography takes time—and often a food stylist—so brands should not feel intimidated if they want to skip the photography in the beginning for a faster go-live and easier-to-maintain experience. No photography is better than bad photography.

Should we have all the products we offer in-store on the mobile menu?

The brands that are the most successful at driving mobile order-ahead adoption are those that provide the best end-to-end customer experience. If customers want to order a sandwich and a bottled beverage, but you don’t offer bottled beverages in your app, they’ll either have to find the beverage in-store and ask the cashier to ring up a separate check (this minimizes the efficiencies of the order-ahead experience and skews attachment data) or forego the beverage altogether (resulting in lower sales for your business). That said, this is ultimately an operational question. An obvious and extreme example being: if your in-store pickup experience is primarily self-serve—customers grab their orders and go with little to no assistance —it wouldn’t make sense to let them order a frozen yogurt that’s going to melt while it sits on a shelf.

How do you recommend we promote new products on our mobile menu?

To the extent your tech permits: personalize, personalize, personalize. Don’t make your customers go digging for their favorite orders. If you know that a customer likes sandwich X, and you’ve rolled out a similar sandwich Y, recommend that product to that customer with a quick explanation. If you allow customers to share their dietary restrictions, make sure that feedback is reflected in the menu display itself.

How do you handle items that are only available during certain dayparts, e.g. breakfast or dinner items?

It depends on how far in advance you let customers place an order. For example, if you operate on an ASAP model—think Starbucks or your favorite delivery app—the most straightforward user experience is to display only those menu items that are available at the time the order will be fulfilled. If you allow for future orders, you’ll want to note on the front end that there are time restrictions to ordering certain items, and validate on the back end that each item in a customer’s cart can be made for the selected fulfillment time or window.

Should I show nutritional information like calories on my menu?

It goes without saying that the FDA regulation is forcing transparency around nutrition, and consumers are ever more conscious about nutrition and their food choices. We covered some of these changes on our blog, including how the new rules impact mobile menus. For some brands, this means updating mobile menus with calorie count ranges for standard menu items that come in varying sizes. For others, it means more dynamic calorie counts as users make modifications to a product (Chick-fil-A, sweetgreen, Potbelly). And yet other restaurants are taking the extra step early on to provide additional nutrition information at the product detail page level (Starbucks, Dig Inn). Certainly, some restaurants will seek to make menu updates that provide more healthful options to consumers. That said, I think most restaurants will wait to react to consumer feedback and trends once the changes go into effect, rather than making sweeping changes to their menus up front.

How can I drive mobile order-ahead acquisition without offering discounts?

Personally, I’m a big fan of mobile/app-only “exclusives” that drive both user acquisition and retention. This doesn’t mean having an entirely separate menu, but rather, one to two limited time products that are available only to those purchasing through the channel you’re trying to activate. Or an early “preview” of new menu items via digital channels before customers are able to order them in-store.

Should I have both in-store pickup and delivery? 

If your restaurant has decided to invest in both in-store pickup and delivery experiences, including both fulfillment options within your mobile experience will drive increased app adoption and revenue for your business. Equally important, you’ll be able to ensure the accuracy of your delivery menus and control the way delivery orders are routed to and received by your restaurants—eliminating the operational complexities for which many third party delivery providers have become infamous.

What if I have different menus for delivery and for in-store pick-up? 

This is common, and nothing the right ordering flow can’t solve for! In this case, you’ll want to ask your customers to first indicate whether they’re ordering for pickup or delivery before displaying a menu. You might be familiar with this type of flow from apps like Domino’s and Potbelly.

Whether you have been thinking about offering order-ahead for a while or you are just getting started with a digital experience for your customers, you’ll want to ask all the right questions to ensure a smooth implementation; because, after all, you just can’t afford to ignore what millions of consumers are asking for.

Theresa Dold is the Vice President of Agency Strategy at LevelUp. In her role, Dold develops LevelUp Agency’s solutions and drives adoption of the platform, features, tools and integrations among current and future restaurant partners. Prior to joining LevelUp, Dold served as the director of product at sweetgreen, a leading healthy fast-casual brand. While at sweetgreen, Dold owned the company’s product roadmap and consumer-facing tech initiatives while helping to build an in-house engineering and product team from the ground up. She also launched the sweetgreen rewards app in early 2013, which continues to leverage the LevelUp platform to achieve great levels of adoption and success among customers.
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