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ChowNow and Instagram have partnered to provide restaurants easy online ordering through the popular social media app.

Tech Tracker: Instagram and ChowNow launch free online ordering for restaurants

The new 'Order Food' button was developed by Instagram to help drive digital orders for restaurants; plus, troubles at Yelp and Uber Eats launches phone ordering system  

Instagram is partnering with ChowNow, a Los Angeles-based online ordering platform, to provide restaurants commission-free menu ordering through the popular social media app.

The “Order Food” button can be found on Instagram Stories, allowing for quick and easy ordering. ChowNow, which is on track to add about 4,000 new restaurants by the end of April, said the new ordering feature is free to its 13,000 independent restaurant clients across the U.S. and Canada.

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Restaurants who use ChowNow for online ordering can now add an "Order Food" button to their Instagram Stories.

Unlike third-party delivery companies, ChowNow — a veteran supplier in the online ordering space — only charges a monthly fee. Restaurants pay $99 to $149 per month, per location.

ChowNow CEO Christopher Webb said he worked with Instagram last year to try online ordering for restaurants. But the system was clunky as it forced consumers to order by clicking on a link found on the restaurant’s profile page. Instagram and ChowNow soon discovered that consumers don’t venture into profile pages very often.

The new system, developed to help restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis, has been improved.

Rolling out today, ChowNow restaurants can add “Order Food” buttons when posting on their Instagram Story. These graphic elements, or stickers, will link directly to a restaurant’s online ordering platform powered by ChowNow.  

The company is not charging additional fees for the perk, which will live on Instagram “for at least 6 months, potentially longer,” Webb told Nation’s Restaurant News in an exclusive interview. 

“During this unprecedented pandemic, ChowNow has mobilized all its resources to help local restaurants survive and ultimately thrive, launching new products and services in record time,” he said in a statement announcing the partnership Wednesday morning. 

Webb said now more than ever restaurants need social media to help drive the kind of order volume they need to survive the pandemic, which has forced hundreds of restaurants across the U.S. to rely on takeout and delivery to generate revenue.  

“Restaurants need to stay engaged on a daily basis and the number one way to do that is with Instagram,” he said.

Founded in 2012, ChowNow also offers online ordering through a restaurant’s Facebook page, its website, Google, a ChowNow-created app, or through the ChowNow website. 

Order volume doesn’t hurt ChowNow restaurants because they pay a flat fee, instead of a percentage of each order, which can reach up to 30% on third-party delivery platforms.

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ChowNow restaurant clients like Champagnes Bistro and Deli in Newport Beach will benefit from Instagram's new "Order Food" button, developed in a partnership aimed at helping restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis.

Social media strategist Patty Mitchell said her client, Champagnes Bistro and Deli in Newport Beach, will be thrilled to launch this new service to boost online orders without giving up the “brutal” fees of third-party delivery.

“This is fabulous,” said Mitchell, owner of social media management company Culinary Promotions in Newport Beach, Calif.

“In this time of coronavirus, social media has never been more important," she said. 

ChowNow said 80% of the new restaurants it has signed up since the pandemic are independent restaurants with less than 20 units.

Jeremy Fox, chef-owner of Birdie G’s and Tallula’s in Los Angeles, said pivoting to delivery and takeout operations during the pandemic has been “a huge challenge” for independent restaurants across the country.

“With ChowNow seamlessly linking to our Instagram accounts and not charging any commissions on orders, we’re able to promote all the new things we’re offering while ensuring that more dollars go directly back to our restaurants and beloved staff,” Fox said in a statement.  

Uber Eats introduces phone orders

In other COVID-19 related technology news, Uber Eats has introduced a new way for people to get food delivered to their home without using the company’s app.

Uber Eats, a division of the ride-hailing company, said Wednesday that it is rolling out a phone booking feature in Miami and New York City. The system allows someone who might not be comfortable using a delivery app to, instead, place a meal order by talking to someone on the phone. 

The company first launched the phone ordering feature as a ride sharing product in February. It saw immediate success among older adults, so it made sense to expand the feature for meal ordering, the company said.

Customers will be asked to set up an account, at first. The “live” team member will then search for a customer’s meal request. No orders are placed until the customer is given a price quote and confirms the order. After launching in Florida and New York City, the phone feature will then roll out to Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City suburbs, New Jersey, Arizona and Florida, Uber said.

The phone number is 1-833-USE-UBER. The user doesn't need to have a smart phone, but orders must be made from a phone that features texting. 

Waitr expands delivery radius

Troubled third-party delivery company Waitr has expanded its delivery radius to as far as 12 miles away from certain restaurants.

In some cases, the new radius is double the current reach. The company said it is making the move to help restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis.

“As these uncertain times continue, we are constantly evaluating how to better support our diners and restaurant partners,” CEO Carl Grimstad said in a statement. “When looking at our delivery areas for restaurants and driver supply, it became clear that we could push the boundaries to help our restaurants reach more diners, which will help these restaurant partners survive and provide us new opportunities to grow.”

Louisiana-based Waitr works with chains and independent restaurants in cities with populations ranging from 50,000 to 750,000. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., the company laid off its W-2 delivery drivers and converted its fleet to gig workers.

Troubles at Yelp

Shelter-at-home policies have hurt the hospitality industry as fewer people are traveling and dining. Companies whose revenue is tied to restaurants and hotels are also hurting, including consumer review site Yelp.

Last week, Yelp laid off 1,000 workers, furloughed about 1,100 others and reduced hours for those workers remaining on payroll. 

“The physical distancing measures and shelter-in-place orders, while critical to flatten the curve, have dealt a devastating blow to the local businesses that are core to our mission,” Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said in an April 9 statement. “The impact we’ve seen on consumer behavior is staggering: interest in restaurants, our most popular category, has dropped 64% since March 10, and the nightlife category is down 81%.”

For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

Updated: This story was edited to include new COVID-19 related tech news.

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