Online ordering famously increases average tickets. Increasingly, customers are choosing to patronize only restaurants that offer an online ordering option. According to the NPD Group, restaurant digital orders increased by 19% in January 2020 compared to the same month in 2019, and then by a remarkable 145% in December of 2020. Is it time to improve your restaurant’s online ordering experience? Here are some tips from the experts:

Start spreading the news.

Call attention to the online option in every way possible. “Online ordering is one of the first messages a guest sees when walking up to the door of one of our restaurants,” says Chris Partyka, president of San Antonio-based Pizza Patrón. “We also advertise via social media—like Facebook and Instagram—by driving guests directly to our website with compelling deals while engaging with them in real time. Guests are extremely tech-savvy, and we want to accommodate them by delivering our messages through a medium that they spend a majority of their time on.”

Brian Dickmann, owner of the four-location Pizza Rita, based in Spokane, Washington, touts the option on menu fliers that go out with every delivery and in-store order. “The first thing you see on our website is the ‘Order Now’ button, and at the top of our Facebook page, there’s a ‘Shop Now’ button that links directly to our online ordering page,” he says. And, for customers who still phone in, make sure staff members let them know they can order online (and incorporate this info into your on-hold message).

Make it mobile-friendly. 

When the Romeo’s Pizza chain, headquartered in Medina, Ohio, redesigned its website with the help of ad agency Hitchcock Fleming & Associates, the new mobile- and tablet-friendly site increased traffic by 10%, online ordering by 6%, and sales on the app by 5%. “Online ordering continues to reshape consumer expectations and demands,” says Tracy McCutcheon, partner and executive creative director at Hitchcock Fleming & Associates, based in Akron, Ohio. “The objective for redesigning the Romeo’s Pizza website was to adapt to the connected consumer and the advancement of handheld devices by capitalizing on appetite-driven shopping and seizing the micro-moment—making it easy to order and satisfy customers’ needs.” For example, the site carves out sections to easily highlight current specials and promotions, while the Romeo’s Rewards loyalty program allows customers to earn one point for every dollar they spend through a seamless checkout process. With an optimized web design and search-engine optimization plan, customers responded immediately to the brand’s improved online experience.

Stimulate the senses. 

A picture can be worth a thousand words, so incorporate mouthwatering visuals to make the most of your menu. At Pizza Rita, Dickmann recently switched to an online ordering system that allows the display of food pictures, taken by a photo-savvy night manager. “We’ve offered online ordering for almost five years now, and it accounts for about 15% of our deliveries,” Dickmann explains. “But after only one month of switching to a system that allows us to show images, that number is already increasing.” Romeo’s reports similar results with its revamped website and use of food photos.

“It’s helpful to allow customers to order using images and for users to see the offers that are relevant to them,” says Sastry Penumarthy, co-founder of Punchh in San Mateo, California. One caveat: Ensure that your photos are representative of your food (i.e., avoid stock photography) and are professionally produced to show off your selections in the best light possible.

Throw in some swag.

Whether you’re looking to reward loyal customers, promote package deals, or lure someone to online ordering for the first time, branded merchandise giveaways offer multiple benefits—upping perceived value while leaving guests with a visual reminder of your pizzeria. Pizza Patrón, for example, will roll out its Email Club this summer, allowing online customers to get a first look at the company’s news, rewards and event information while scoring cool swag. Shelley Grieshop, creative writer for Totally Promotional in Coldwater, Ohio, says pizzerias should devise a marketing plan that rewards online customers with a customized collectible item. “The imprint on the item can include the pizzeria’s online ordering address, name, logo and phone number,” she says. “For example, you can promote gifts with an online purchase of a large pizza and breadsticks—giving away a pizza chef figurine, can coolers, flying discs, keychains or hand sanitizer, products that will be a big hit with families. Choose a food item for the reward and it’s a double win—you promote specific food items and the online ordering information.

Create a seamless experience.

Your system should simplify and streamline the ordering process for registered users and unregistered guests alike. For example, Penumarthy notes that it’s important to provide an easy way for guests to select their favorite orders (or most recently placed orders) instead of building a new order from scratch every time. “Allow users to have the ability to redeem their previously earned rewards without leaving the checkout screen,” Penumarthy adds. “Allow for a rich experience for guest users, too—like if the unregistered guest abandons a shopping cart midstream and then comes back, the app or website should allow them to resume from where they left off. The user should also be able to see what your most popular items are (based on other guests’ purchases), and just order one of those quickly, and they should be able to search for items they like (such as gluten-free) without having to scroll through a lot of different menu items.”

Target your orders.

So you have customers ordering online—now what? Use that crucial intel for future marketing efforts. “Now, marketers have the unique ability to leverage data collected from online ordering to intelligently personalize consumer emails and trigger offers based on the frequency and contents of orders placed,” says Steve Hauber, president of Valassis Local Solutions. “What increasingly separates top-performing restaurants from the pack is their ability to transform insights from their own data into strategies for growth. Savvy restaurateurs can drive incremental revenue by designing promotions that raise the average order value through targeted and personalized offers, appealing visuals and loyalty programs.” Today’s customers want to receive personalized communications—and online ordering helps you collect important information on their spending habits, purchases and more. Use that information wisely, and you’ll be on your way to scoring even more sales for the future!

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.