Three Crucial Elements for Creating a Successful Mobile Ordering Experience

By 2020, mobile order-ahead is predicted to be a $38 billion industry and may account for 10 percent of total quick service restaurant (QSR) industry sales, according to industry experts. This prediction comes based on the increased level of interaction consumers have had with restaurant technology over the past few years. With mobile beginning to play a key role in how restaurants talk to their customers, owners and operators need to understand how they can help themselves to grow and how they can best utilize the minimal screen real estate of mobile devices to deliver an unparalleled experience to their customers.

For restaurants to stay ahead of the trend in the ever-changing digitally driven world, there are three key elements worth considering to capitalize on the incremental revenue mobile order-ahead can bring in.

Menu Layout

It goes without saying restaurants have limited menu real estate on a small screen. While short, digestible product names and descriptions are important, accuracy and consistency trump those elements when it comes to menu layout. Simply put, restaurants should avoid words that do not accurately convey the flavor profile and experience of the item being ordered.

 What will provide the most optimal ‘happy path’ to ordering?

For example, attractive menu items typically start with their preparation method. If the menu states that the pizza dough is hand-tossed, eggs are poached and fish is pan-seared, then their preparation must be accurate to ensure customer satisfaction.  

For mobile menu layout, some restaurants may choose to mimic their in-store ordering experience, however, it’s not always the best way to set up a mobile ordering feature. Restaurants need to think about what information deserves a home on the top level of the menu and what detail is best suited for a product details page – what will provide the most optimal “happy path” to ordering?

The “happy path” will be the most convenient way for customers to interact and order with a brand. This path may be influenced by in-store menu experiences, bestselling or most popular items, or it may be about functionalities such as quick-add-to-cart button or one-click ordering.


Consumers increasingly value a visual ordering experience. This has to do with transparency – the ability to order with your eyes in-store and the proliferation of food photography throughout social media feeds, especially Instagram. While online menus have been a way for customers to decide whether they’d like to visit a particular restaurant in the first place, professional food photography is an extra step a restaurant can take to attract visitors.

When using photography to display menu items, it is crucial to ensure that product photography accurately represents the product that customers are purchasing. If restaurants change the ingredients within menu items frequently, photos of those items could lead to customer service nightmares. Stick with the essentials and be sure to add disclaimers when necessary. For example, portion sizes depicted in a photo ought to bear some resemblance to reality!

That said, pictures that are low-light and low-quality are not going to do a restaurant any favors. According to Curalate, images that have high lightness generate 24 percent more likes than those of a darker quality on mobile platforms like Instagram. This rule of thumb can apply to mobile menus as well.

As a restaurant owner, if resources and budget allow for images to be shot 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. Crowdsourcing customer photos is also a great way to get images integrated into a restaurant’s mobile experience;  but remember, no photography is better than bad photography.

Order Customization

Whether you realize it or not, there are more than 80,000 ways to order a beverage from Starbucks. Americans are used to having their food customized to their exact liking. Whether it’s adding soy milk to their morning coffee order, holding the pickles on their favorite sandwich or denoting an allergy, customers know they can get exactly what they want, how they want it. Part of the draw to online and mobile ordering is the precision customers can get with their customizations. Not only can they edit menu items to their desire, they may unlock a trove of additional options they wouldn’t have had time to notice while waiting in line at their favorite lunch spot.

While order customization is great for consumers, before building out customization within a mobile ordering experience, owners and operators need to think about what level of customization is operationally feasible for their restaurant. Restaurants can use data on typical customizations to understand what level is expected by customers, versus what level is realistic for the restaurant to ensure a top-notch experience from a service and food quality standpoint. For example, allowing a customer to edit all 10 items in their burrito is likely to lead to chaos – missed ingredients and overuse of food prep time.

Putting the Elements into Play

In addition to sorting out the menu layout, the photography and the order customization options on a menu, listening to stakeholders is the best and least expensive analysis a restaurant can do.

 Listening to stakeholders is the best and least expensive analysis a restaurant can do.

For example, if a store manager says that “customers can’t find drinks in the app,” it might be time to rethink how you’re displaying your drink menu  – or risk losing considerable revenue from that channel.

Restaurants can’t be afraid to test, to learn from and listen to their audience. Even if an A/B testing framework isn’t in place or in the budget, restaurants can create their own testing mechanisms by playing around with how menu items are ordered, how products appear in photos, how item-specific offers perform and more. Testing allows restaurants to understand what influences customer behavior and the more testing that can be done, the more opportunities a restaurant has to grow a more loyal customer base while also attracting new customers. 

During the next three to five years, consumers will be using digital payments more than ever, so as these customers  transition to interacting and transacting with restaurants through mobile devices, owners and operators should be open and willing to take the next step in making their restaurant digitally compatible for their target audiences.