Online ordering isn’t new anymore, and consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet and their mobile device to do everything from customizing their pizzas to crafting an order that fits in with dietary needs to just creating a dining experience designed to move more smoothly. Pizza Hut launched its first online ordering system in 1994 and has been building on it since, augmenting it in recent years with mobile apps to increase the ability of customers to order at their convenience. As a result, almost half of the chain’s orders now come from online and mobile customers, the company says.

Restaurants across most segments are at least dipping a toe into the waters of online ordering, but fast-casual concepts are taking the lead, according to a recent study on online, mobile and text-ordering trends by researchers at The Center for Hospitality at Cornell University. Almost half the fast-casual concepts surveyed in the study offer some type of online ordering, compared to 23% across all industry segments.

Customers are rapidly adopting online and mobile ordering because it cuts down on wait times and improves accuracy of orders. Eateries like it because automated systems improve productivity, researchers found, although there’s the real potential for a flood of online orders to overwhelm kitchen staff, at least until everyone adjusts.

Some chains build their online ordering systems in-house, but a growing number of restaurants and chains avoid reinventing the wheel by partnering with companies like OLO Online Ordering, which offers platforms for ordering online, via SMS text messaging and through mobile apps, all of which are customized to reflect the restaurant’s brand. Another option is using a service such as GrubHub, which now serves 13 U.S. cities with quick links to online ordering for neighborhood eateries. Last week, GrubHub and OLO announced a partnership that will expand GrubHub’s reach by adding listings and links for OLO’s 2,500 restaurant customers, a list that includes Cold Stone Creamery, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and, most recently, Sonic.

The numbers show restaurants’ adoption of online ordering systems is paying off – establishments surveyed in the Cornell study reported that patrons ordering online had both higher average checks and more frequent orders than those who ordered by phone or in person.

On a smaller scale, ballpark beer vendor Kevin Zelko sells 80 to 100 beers a game at Mariners’ Safeco Field in Seattle. Sales go up when the Yankees hit town, but not enough to warrant his own online ordering app. Instead, Zelko now takes orders via Twitter. Smartphone fans who tweet their orders to @Msbeervendor tend to be good tippers, he says, and having orders in advance makes for a more efficient system since Zelko can map his route through the stands.

Does your restaurant offer online ordering? Do customers seem to like it? Has it had an effect on sales? Tell us about it in the comments.

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3 responses to “Online ordering grows up”

  1. zmfrederick says:

    Online ordering seems to the next frontier for restaurants. I work for a new start-up survey site and we just ran a survey with over 277 respondents which found that online ordering is becoming quite popular with a majority of respondents saying they prefer to order online for takeout compared to phone or in-person:

  2. Chris Crafton says:

    We launched online ordering in April of this year. It's been a great success as evidenced by the growing number of orders per week and the number of repeat orders in particular. We developed a system which allows us to update/revise the menus in real time, and the online console is very user friendly. More importantly it frees up our staff from taking phone orders and to concentrate on dine-in customers. Check it out at
    Chris Crafton
    Nudy's Cafe Marketing Department

  3. Pete says:

    In Atlanta Moe’s Mexican Burrito launch a online mobile app from Splick-it and the managers I spoke to love the way it works. I found it simple to use. I agree that the future is about making it easy for customers to order and the mobile smart phone makes sense.