Why hospitality needs to take eCommerce seriously

10 February 2021 by
Why hospitality needs to take eCommerce seriously

Sponsored article by Square: What restaurants can learn from eCommerce – how going digital can boost growth.

It's little surprise consumers have developed an appetite for ordering food online, as the pleasures of eating out have remained off the menu for some time. Many still crave restaurant-quality meals from the comfort of home, a fact reflected recently when Just Eat reported a 400% increase in the number of delivery orders in the UK for the last three months of 2020, compared with the same period last year.

Hospitality must think more digitally and transform beyond simply offering an online takeaway service if they want to survive the coming turbulent months. Here we look at the ways restaurants can lean into the world of eCommerce and yield long-term benefits by setting up an online store. These include taking ownership of the customer relationship, using data and payments to grow the business and, of course, providing alternatives to third-party platforms.

Getting started

Clearly having an engaging site means more than a repository for your menu. Telling the brand story, displaying an array of mouth-watering photographs and incorporating reviews (although it is always important to respond to any negative feedback promptly and transparently) are common features.

But there are other tricks to get noticed amid the cacophony of online ordering. For example, although restaurants might not be getting the same physical footfall from their locale – they can still benefit from digital footfall. By signing up to Google My Business and Bing Places, your location automatically appears on users' map search results, so potential customers will see you when searching for options in their area.

Social media can also be a great way to build up a community of customers. Posting photographs of behind-the scenes-images and menu specials on Twitter, Tiktok, Facebook and Instagram can help drive traffic to your site, get people engaging with the brand and generate a buzz through recommendations. Keep the tone informal and chatty, but again be sure to deal with criticism openly.

Branching out

One of the huge growth areas in 2020 was the rise of the ‘makeaway' – from Michelin-starred cuisine to pre-made pizza dough, it seemed everyone was getting into meal kits. Customers get to enjoy the benefit of having fresh-from-the-oven food at their own convenience, while restaurants can significantly broaden their reach into new geographic areas – as the delivery won't go cold. It's also a good option when cooked dishes don't travel so well, such as steaks.

A good place to start is with your most popular meals or signature dishes and create a deconstructed boxed version, including pre-made spices and sauces (think Dishoom's iconic bacon naan). Use photos of the ingredients to showcase their freshness and quality and consider including a video explainer, for example a demonstration from your head chef on how to assemble the meal.

In fact, some have taken this idea to the next level by offering online cookery and cocktail-making courses – meeting the much-talked about millennial penchant for experiences over possessions. Whatever you decide to do, thinking outside the box about your brand by including rich content (such as blogs, recipe tips and event details) will make the site more interactive for customers and boost your online visibility.

Cashing up

Once you've settled on the type of offering you want to provide, a crucial part of the customer experience (and of course your revenue stream) is getting the payments right. Not only do you want a frictionless check-out experience to ensure that orders are completed, but the payments system you choose needs to be from a trusted provider who can ensure customer details remain protected.

Some providers also incorporate data analytics into their POS systems, so you can drill down into what customers are buying and use that to inform future targeted marketing campaigns and personalised messaging.

Alyssa Henry, seller lead for payments at point-of-sale company Square, notes that as more restaurants move online they are benefiting even more from the company's broad range of tools and solutions.

"Square for Restaurants aims to revolutionise the restaurant industry by simplifying a usually complicated system to be self serve, so restaurants can get started faster." As well as integrating with third party platforms such as Deliverect (which connects restaurants POS systems to the likes of Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Just Eat) it helps provide restaurants with data-driven decision-making to give them the edge. "Using digital platforms enables restaurants to collect and action data on what's working well for customers," she adds.

The process doesn't have to be complicated, either. Kieren Brownhill, manager of Roots Café in Abergele, Wales said: "When I started using Square for Restaurants, I was just in awe of how good the software was. It's made it seamless between front of house and the kitchen."

Get started

Get started selling online with Square's free site builder, which allows you to create and publish your online store quickly. Set up an account, choose a domain name and design and customise your site with the user-friendly dashboard.

Square will guide you through the process with automated prompts, so there's no need to learn to code. Once it's up and running, the site will work well on any device and syncs with your social media accounts to help you sell right away.

Whatever the type and size of your business, Square will help you seamlessly send orders to customers, as well as offering click and collect and local delivery options.

Square Online's full suite of services can boost your eCommerce offering, run and grow your business and track sales and site stats. For more information on how to implement Square Online for your hospitality business click here.

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