How in-app ordering has changed the dining and drinking experience.

Laura Dixon, Marketing Executive in London, UK
22 June 2021

Each time lockdown restrictions in the UK have eased, the government’s advice to bars, pubs and restaurants has remained the same. In order to reopen safely, they should have a table ordering app or platform in place. These systems go a long way in maintaining social distancing. All food and drinks are delivered straight to the table, so there is no need to queue or crowd by a bar. Whilst this is convenient, removing the human side of the dining and drinking experience means the need for effective and innovative apps is greater than ever before. 

Customers, as always, want convenience. So, to adhere to all health and safety guidelines (and to make sure customers can enjoy the indoor and outdoor dining experience once again), creating a seamless digital ordering journey was essential for restaurants to open up post-lockdown. Whilst some brands have risen to the challenge and launched solutions that make ordering easy, others still have a way to go. Brands like Wetherspoons have had this style of system in place since 2017. So whilst other bars and restaurants were developing their ordering apps in preparation for the end of lockdown in 2020, Wetherspoons were ahead of the game. Many successful systems make the payment process as painless as possible, by for example, including the capability for Apple Pay or Google Pay or linking to previously saved card details. But there’s a number of other features that could help make the ordering experience more seamless. Functionalities that allow customers to reorder their last round of drinks would save time and require less effort. Additionally, apps that can provide suggestions for sides with meals or what to mix with spirits can bring back some of the human elements of ordering – and help customers make up their minds quicker. Some apps, like the one created by Nando's, even link to their loyalty programme, automatically giving customers the option to apply discounts they’ve earned over time.  

But a key thing with ordering apps is that one size really does not fit all, and more often than not, these systems could have a better end-to-end customer experience if brands have spent time reviewing what their customers are looking for when being out. This could be done in several different ways, such as adding a review or questionnaire feature after the payment section of their app. By defining what their customers missed about the pre-COVID experience, they can then replicate, or even enhance that digitally with current restrictions in mind, and address pain points their customers had that could now be better addressed with the right digital solution.

Speaking from personal experience, when booking a table in advance, it would be helpful to receive communications with reminders to either download the required app before arriving or to make sure your phone battery is full, to avoid any difficulty when ordering. A mobile queuing system, which has already been implemented by some brands, like Nando’s and Honest Burgers, would give customers a live wait time for their table or order. Taking things further, functions that allow customers to order in advance would not only help staff when serving larger parties, but would also speed up the process for those who are in a rush. Additionally, including the ability to cancel a booking in an app may also decrease the number of ‘no-shows’ in pubs and restaurants. Using geolocation technology within apps, would not only speed up the process by allowing restaurants and bars to prepare pre-ordered items right before the customers arrive, it could also be used as a marketing tool, like Burger King, who in 2018 used geolocation tech to send promotional communications to app users who were within 600ft radius of their US restaurants

Those who opt for a combination of touchscreens on tables and QR code mobile apps may have more success in the long term, by being able to avoid pitfalls like no WiFi or a dead phone. However, one thing we cannot (yet) forget about is that touchscreens should come with the necessity of disinfecting all screens after each transaction – at least for the foreseeable future. Another thing to avoid when aiming for a seamless and simple ordering experience is to keep away from including any activation emails or links that take users away from the app or website itself. Not only does this lengthen the process significantly, it can also be frustrating for customers who just want to place their order and be on their way.   

Whilst in-app ordering is not a new concept, it is more popular in the current landscape – and it’s here to stay. An effective, seamlessly performing app can make or break the customer experience. Removing the need to wait for a service not only speeds up the process but subconsciously encourages customers to order more. The move away from 'vertical' drinking and dining means that pubs, bars and restaurants need to invest more in digital technology to improve the end-to-end UX for their customers and future-proof their businesses.