New Strategies for Increasing Restaurant Profits Through Online Ordering

Researchers from the University of South Florida Center for Marketing and Sales Innovation recently collaborated with iMotions and Revenue Management Solutions (RMI) in a study that revealed how customers scan online menus. iMotions is an analysis platform that uses biometric sensors such as eye-tracking and facial recognition to analyze human behavior.

The first study of its kind involved using a respondent’s web camera to track eye movement and analyze facial expressions as they navigated TGI Friday’s online menu via their laptop or desktop.

How Guests Look at an Online Menu  

The research revealed that many respondents started by looking at the main menu categories, such as appetizers and sandwiches, which they read from left to right. Then their attention shifted to the center of the screen and predominantly to the right of the screen. This placed the items on the left side of the menu, or screen, in a persistent “blind spot.” The research found that about 50% of the time, respondents missed items on the left side of the screen.

The study revealed two opportunities for restaurants—placing high-profit items on the top, center, and right side of the screen and taking advantage of suggestive selling opportunities available along the buyer’s journey.

According to researchers, the buyer’s journey generally fell into four phases.

  1. Familiarization occurred when respondents first scanned the entire menu
  2. Exploration followed as they evaluated options and narrowed down their choices
  3. Affirmation happened as they added items to the cart
  4. Confirmation occurred when they completed the checkout

Additional findings revealed that respondents were more likely to add items during the exploration and affirmation phases. They also noted that, currently, most suggestive selling occurs at checkout. This means that restaurants are missing some opportunities in the initial stages of their customer’s online menu exploration.

Sara Bittorf, chief experience officer at TGI Friday’s, reported, “In the past 18 months, we’ve undergone a seismic shift in the way our customers interact with our menu. The research has already given us tools to improve the guest experience and increase menu profitability.”

Multichannel Ordering Options

A study conducted by RMS found that over 50% of respondents ordered from restaurants at least five times a week, a sizable shift in online and takeout ordering since the pandemic changed consumer behavior.

Diners, however, are still intent on experiencing the pleasure of dining in—friendly service and delicious food in a unique setting. Over 60% of those surveyed reported dining at a restaurant at least once a week. Unfortunately, most respondents reported dining experiences that did not live up to their expectations due to longer-than-expected wait times, reduced operating hours, or limited menu options.

Fortunately, the survey also revealed that most guests are forgiving during the current labor shortage and chain supply upheavals. Almost 80% said they would return despite the disruptions. However, that number dropped down to 67% when guests experienced longer wait times.

It’s evident that online ordering will play a significant role in a restaurant’s success in this new normal. Almost 70% of respondents reported that “takeout will be crucial for them in the future.” With takeout becoming the preferred option, maximizing your online ordering system and ensuring it is easy to navigate and aligns with the favored practices for optimizing profits will help ensure continued success.

Online Ordering Tips

For many restaurants, their online presence and ordering system could still use a few upgrades. Take advantage of the latest information and optimize your online menu by placing higher-profit items in the locations where a customer’s eyes linger. Photos are also a great way to upsell these items and provide context to your menu. Make a list of your most profitable and popular items and place these at the top and center of your online menu. Always keep an eye on online ordering data following any changes to ensure they work in your favor.

Describe each of your dishes succinctly and in a way that entices your customers. Include upsells and add-ons in a clear manner without overwhelming them. Online ordering should make it easy for your guests to customize their meals while increasing your sales at the same time. In addition, make sure that it’s easy to order from your website by prominently displaying a button on your homepage for online ordering.

If maximizing your online ordering is more than your to-do list can currently handle, several companies help in the process without charging high commission fees. A few of these include ChowNow, SpotOn, and TouchBistro.

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