Contactless Ordering Isn’t Going Anywhere — Here’s How to Make the Most of It

The pandemic has created unprecedented demand for online ordering platforms. Customer demand for delivery is 135 times higher than before COVID-19, according to Yelp. As a result, restaurants that have historically relied on in-person dining have either scrambled to create their own food ordering apps or have leaned on third-party services to do it for them.

Contactless ordering has become an integral part of business rather than just a tool to navigate this crisis.

While it’s tempting to see this increase as a temporary solution for restaurants amid the pandemic, much of this new behavior may be here to stay. According to Salesforce, most consumers in the U.S. plan to continue buying essential goods online even after the pandemic’s danger has passed. In all likelihood, customers may be less inclined to dine out as much as they once did — even when the world returns to some version of normal.

What does this mean for those in the restaurant industry? Ultimately, they’ll have to start thinking of the pandemic’s lessons as long-term business solutions for the future. Much of this will come down to understanding that contactless ordering has become an integral part of business rather than just a tool to navigate this crisis. Even more, it will continue to be a tool that increases efficiency for restaurants far into the future.

The Ups and Downs of Ordering Apps

For both customers and restaurant owners, the early days of contactless ordering have been something of a mixed bag. Customers have navigated clunky interfaces and dealt with longer wait times and delivery windows due to increased demand. They’ve also had to give up control when it comes to selecting and inspecting their options for customization.

Building trust with customers over the web hasn’t always been easy, and not everything has gone as planned. For example, most delivery apps ask customers to rate their delivery person but don’t offer a separate way to review their overall experiences. This creates a situation where people can’t clearly share issues related to missing products, food temperatures, or order mistakes. As a result, negative feelings get taken out on the person making the delivery — and the relevant feedback doesn’t get back to the people who need to see it.

However, contactless ordering features like order tracking and history have become clear successes by giving customers more insight into and control over the experience. Something as simple as a “reorder” button has become a fan-favorite feature that also benefits businesses by encouraging repeat transactions and providing a more personalized element to remote ordering.

While there may be a long way to go, we’ve already made incredible progress. These learning experiences and bumps in the road are necessary if restaurants want to move beyond the growing pains and continue to build successful, efficient online ordering platforms that can be used in a post-pandemic future. Here are a few tips on where to start.

1. Research Your Audience

The pandemic has changed the way people think and live. It’s more important than ever for restaurateurs to conduct customer research to better understand those customers. The Nielsen Norman Group, for example, couldn’t understand why some pictures of vacation properties that included people safely disinfecting surfaces were received positively while others showing the same activities were received negatively.

Through audience research, the company found that people liked seeing precautions being taken in photos of communal spaces — but didn’t want to be reminded of the pandemic when looking at more intimate spaces. Understanding small psychological changes like this matters to all businesses and will be key to optimizing contactless ordering in the future.

2. Provide Clear and Concise Directions

No one wants to read lengthy, complicated instructions when they order food from a new restaurant, but it’s still important to offer users guidance. Keep the process simple: Tell your customers where they can pick up their food or how deliveries will be dropped off. Make sure your pickup location is clearly marked to prevent confusion and help people get in and out safely and efficiently.

For example, many restaurants have clearly designated drive-up spots for picking up online orders, usually located conveniently close to the store. Chain restaurants like Red Robin and Chili’s have perfected this process. Customers let the restaurant know when they’ve arrived and where they’ve parked, and employees bring out their orders. To make the process even easier and more efficient, it’s a good idea to clarify any next steps using signs in your parking lot.

3. Make Customization Easy

As long as there have been restaurants, there have been customers who want to customize their orders. Whether it’s removing or adding toppings, accommodating specific allergies, or substituting one product for another, customers want to be able to make changes to a standard order without having to jump through hoops or call someone. If your UX design doesn’t offer an easy way to customize orders, you could easily lose customers to businesses that do.

Many restaurants have given customers the ability to place their food orders online, customize menu items in great detail, and even select substitutions. By making customers a part of the process, restaurants can still deliver products and services they know will please customers — even if their first choice isn’t available.

4. Be Empathetic and Practice Compassion

Empathy is a key element of success with contactless ordering, especially during such stressful and chaotic periods. Understanding where your customers are coming from and truly relating to them is a huge part of creating a better relationship. Once you have that understanding, the next step is doing something about it.

Acting with compassion is always important, but the pandemic has made that even more necessary. Find ways to ease customer anxieties and simplify their challenges. Work to motivate them while expressing gratitude for their business. If they see you truly care about their satisfaction, they’ll respond by coming back again and again.

Recognize that food ordering apps aren’t going away after the pandemic. You can either choose to be overwhelmed by the likes of DoorDash and Grubhub, or you can use them to rise above the fray, increase efficiency in your restaurant, and drive your business toward success. It’s also a great time to move away from third-party apps and instead create a robust, first-party solution that’s easy to use while offering unique perks.

Contactless ordering has changed how people get their food and where they choose to get that food. It’s up to each restaurateur to differentiate themselves not only through their food and customer service but also through the excellence of their online ordering platforms. An investment in your online ordering today will pay dividends moving forward.