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When the pandemic forced restaurants to temporarily close their dining rooms, the sudden change thrust online ordering for restaurants into the spotlight like never before. Owners and operators quickly learned to adjust and thrive in this new digitally led age. But now, the approaches that carried restaurants through the last two years may no longer be enough.

Succeeding in the hospitality industry today is not only about delivering tasty food, but also mastering the world of digital marketing. How you position your restaurant, the menu you curate, the people you sell to, and how you reach your target audience are all integral pieces of a much larger pie.

In our unique industry report with Technomic, we found that the newest digital opportunities poised to help restaurants elevate awareness and revenue are direct online ordering and virtual restaurants. Offering consumers a branded online ordering experience is the next great frontier, offering unlimited potential for independent operators eager to scale.

Why is online ordering important in the restaurant business?

Since 2014, the ever-expanding world of online food ordering has surged three times faster than dine-in numbers, with online orders now accounting for somewhere around 40% of restaurants’ total sales. With the average American spending a whopping $67 on takeout each week, there’s a huge demographic that’s ready and willing to spend money on restaurants with an online presence.

To get in the game, restaurants need to set up online ordering, but they also need to ensure that setup is as easy as possible for customers to locate and navigate. How will consumers find you when hunger strikes?

Third-party delivery services like Grubhub offer plug-and-play access. Rather than spending an excessive amount of time and money to build an internal infrastructure suitable for online ordering for restaurants, eateries can tap into a marketplace that’s already up and thriving.

Pearl Express, a family-owned and operated restaurant in Salt Lake City, learned about the power of Grubhub Direct firsthand. Owner Jared Tran grew up watching his parents serve guests an innovative and welcoming menu full of traditional Chinese dishes interspersed with American Chinese favorites, but when the pandemic hit, their time-tested business model was no longer as effective.

While Pearl Express initially did well relying solely on takeout orders, by spring 2021, both revenue and orders were down considerably. Thankfully, the Tran family discovered the ease and efficacy of Grubhub Direct. Thanks to Grubhub’s online ordering interface and the free Promotions and Loyalty tools found through Grubhub Direct, Pearl Express has seen a 195% increase in sales and doubled their influx of new customers.

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Which online food ordering app is the best?

Not all online food ordering apps are created the same. Some focus on customer experience with the understanding that consumer satisfaction is as integral to success. Others expect restaurants to do most of the heavy lifting, with operators left to outsource help for marketing materials and dedicate precious man hours to migrating menus and building seasonal promotions.

At Grubhub, we take a holistic, “big picture” approach to online ordering for restaurants. While much of the platform revolves around personalizing your restaurant delivery website, we’re also much more than a simple online ordering interface. With products and solutions like Grubhub Direct, you can take full advantage of tools built for restaurants by people who truly understand what restaurants need.

Enjoy benefits like:

  • A free-to-use site-creation tool
  • Built-in ordering and delivery
  • Automatic menu updates
  • Diner data that can be used to connect and engage through email, social media, etc.
  • Branded online ordering and delivery experiences
  • Ability to quickly and easily import key assets such as your logo, photos, and menu
  • Promotions and Loyalty programs that allow you to harness customer data to offer deals and other order incentives

Then there’s the actual delivery experience itself — 85% of independent restaurant owners surveyed are satisfied with how Grubhub delivery partners handle complex orders, such as those containing both hot and cold items. It’s a number that exceeds competitor averages and illustrates how committed Grubhub is to satisfying restaurants as well as the end customer. 

As for growth and progress, 8 out of 10 operators surveyed who currently use Grubhub say they trust Grubhub to help grow the restaurant’s digital presence and assist with a powerful and productive online ordering strategy.

How virtual restaurants can help your bottom line

Is it time to ditch on-premise dining altogether? For some restaurants, the idea isn’t so far-fetched. Traditional restaurant dining rooms offer an experience that can’t be replicated at home, but for many people, the pandemic reinforced how convenient and stress-free it is to order in rather than taking the entire family out to brunch or dinner.

For restaurants, operating a dining room comes with a lot of overhead and quite a few hassles. You need more staff, you use more power, there’s furniture to buy and maintain, you’re often limited in terms of creativity and menu flexibility — it’s basically a recipe for shrinking profit margins. In the past, that was an exchange restaurateurs had to be willing to make. It was accessible. Now, owners and operators are realizing there’s a viable alternative.

Virtual kitchens are restaurants that offer a full menu for delivery only. There is no dining room and there’s often not even a publicly accessible address. Concepts may work out of a shared commercial kitchen space, like a commissary, but more commonly the virtual restaurant is actually an existing restaurant trying out a second (or third or fourth) concept. 

That’s one kitchen team producing food for a variety of menus — and you can only access those “extra” menus online. Anyone eating at the original restaurant would likely not even know those other menus/concepts exist.

Some 41% of independent restaurant operators surveyed by Grubhub said they’re currently running a secondary virtual restaurant. Even more interesting is that these restaurants are operating an average of 5.7 brands under each umbrella. The popularity of virtual kitchens is rising in sync with consumer preference for delivery — 63% of the consumers we surveyed report they’re making third-party delivery orders more often now than they did pre-pandemic and 90% expect usage to either stay the same or increase as time goes on.

To help restaurants tap into the virtual kitchen trend, Grubhub has launched Grubhub MasterChef Table, a delivery-only restaurant concept available for licensing in over 20 markets across the United States. Restaurants have the opportunity to bring MasterChef Table into their existing kitchens and a menu curated by MasterChef winners like Gerron Hurt, Michael Silverstein, and Kelsey Murphy to consumers in their delivery area.

What is the difference between a ghost kitchen and a virtual kitchen?

Virtual kitchens and ghost kitchens are often treated as if they’re the same thing, but there’s one major difference between the two.

As mentioned above, a virtual kitchen or restaurant piggybacks on an existing space and culinary team to execute an additional menu. This helps independent operators maximize their resources, incorporating additional revenue streams without significantly expanding their overhead.

Think of virtual restaurants as an additional service operating in concert with a brick-and-mortar restaurant. The two concepts have different names, different concepts, and different menus, but it all happens under one roof — guests seated at tables out front may be scaring down linguini and clams and housemade lasagna while the kitchen is handing off a dozen different kinds of hoagies to delivery drivers pulling up to the back.

Ghost kitchens operate out of a complete dining room-free space. These facilities are often shared spaces, so there may be several ghost restaurants fulfilling delivery-only orders from the same spot. There is no FOH staff (so no waiters, bussers, or bartenders), no dining room, no parking lot, and none of the associated concerns.

Both types of kitchens can benefit from a partnership with Grubhub. Sign up and you can introduce your restaurant to an established audience of hungry diners who might otherwise never know that your concept is open for business.

Grubhub and the future of online ordering for restaurants

Of course, virtual kitchens and learning how to create online ordering for restaurants are only two ingredients that play into overall online ordering success. To dive deeper into industry data that can help your restaurant thrive, download the full Technomic and Grubhub report.

Interested in creating your own virtual restaurant? Join Grubhub today or reach out to account support to learn more about how Grubhub can make that happen.