More than a quarter of restaurant operators surveyed in a Cornell University study say their businesses support online ordering.
Professor Sheryl E. Kimes of Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration conducted the study in May, which polled 372 operators that accept take-out, delivery and catering orders. Many of the restaurants that did not support online ordering at the time of the survey said they would add it within two to three years.
The study — “The Current State of Online Food Ordering in the U.S. Restaurant Industry” — was conducted by Kimes on behalf of Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research and will appear in the Sept. 16 issue of the Cornell Hospitality Report.
It was the third of three Nation’s Restaurant News-sponsored Cornell studies based on surveys of chain restaurant websites, consumers and operators involving takeout, delivery and catered restaurant meals and online ordering technology.
Kimes will present some of her findings during the upcoming MUFSO conference in Dallas as part of the “Creating a Better ‘To Go’ Strategy” educational breakout session.
She spoke with NRN.com about the study, which is featured in the Sept. 12 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News.
What were the key findings of this research about online ordering?
These  restaurateurs have been pleased with the technology, and [nearly] all of them indicated that online ordering has met or exceeded their expectations for return-on-investment. Although convenience and control are both drivers of the move toward online ordering, this study found that consumers and operators differed on the ranking of those two factors. Operators thought that consumers like online ordering for its convenience, but an earlier study of consumers found that what they like is control over the ordering process.
What else did the research uncover?
Contrary to some reports, the restaurants in this study did not find substantial increases in average check [due to online ordering programs], but they did report considerable increase in order frequency. For this sample, the top benefit of online ordering [as indicated by responses to open-ended questions] was a savings in labor, since employees are not tied up on the phone or at the counter. Order accuracy [improvement] was another benefit cited by these restaurant operators.
What was the most surprising finding?
That many operators thought that customers wanted to talk with someone at the restaurant. In my previous study of customer reaction to online ordering, most customers preferred to not talk with someone.
What can operators take away from this research?
To not overestimate how convenient your online ordering system might be for your customers.
How might operators leverage this study in a way that will help them build sales, guest satisfaction or both?
If you offer takeout or delivery and don't yet offer online ordering, you should seriously consider it. If properly designed, it will help you build sales, increase order frequency and help you better market to your loyal customers. If you already offer online ordering, be sure that it is designed to make it as convenient as possible for customers to order and also so that you can use it to develop targeted loyalty programs.