Why and How Restaurants and Food Business should Move Online

Are you a restaurateur who is disheartened looking at the empty dining tables everyday? Here’s how you can shift your food business online and stay afloat.


It was after the infection rate began plateauing in the first covid wave, the restaurants and hotels reopened their doors only to be attacked by the second wave of covid that became a double whammy to the just recovery of losses.  The lockdown and curfews have forced the restaurants and food businesses to wear a deserted look again, which is a big dent on India’s service sector, as the restaurant and food industry contributes approximately 3 percent to India’s GDP and is a direct employer to 7.3 million people as per NRAI (National Restaurant Association of India). The restaurant and food business in India is currently grappling with mounting rental costs, limited operating hours, reduced manpower, irregularities in food supplies, and growing apprehensions amongst people regarding the hygiene factor in ordered food and low sales. CRISIL Research has found that the restaurant footfall has plummeted to 90 percent and the recovery of the sector worth 1.5 trillion is estimated to take a year after restrictions are lifted. 

The helplessness of the restaurant and food business has been exacerbated due to little or no help from the central government for emergency funds, also worse the insurance companies could not be of any help as it does not cover lockdowns.  

To survive amidst adversities and varying consumer behaviour, the delivery model seems to be a viable option for the restaurant and food businesses. 

Are Food Aggregators – Swiggy, Zomato – helping the business? 

NRAI in its virtual meeting with restaurant owners has urged them to bolster their self-reliance on digital channels to sell more, sell directly, and minimise dependence on tech aggregators. Several restaurants are therefore pivoting to tech support for building their ordering links and enabling discovery on Google and various social media platforms. There is no denial of the fact that food aggregator platforms have a deeper reach but the ROI is not adequate to cover the costs. Having independent ordering platforms will save the commission charges paid to the aggregators that sometimes go upto 30 percent of the order value.  Besides the commission, the delivery executives of food aggregators will do deliveries spanning a certain distance of 7-10 km.

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The restaurant and food industry contributes approximately 3 percent to India's GDP and is a direct employer to 7.3 million people as per NRAI (National Restaurant Association of India)

The emergence of Cloud Kitchens and Independent Food Delivery Apps 

Eating in is now the new dine-out. With dining out taking the backseat for a while, several cloud kitchens are expected to mushroom and several restaurants which were primarily physical will pivot to the cloud kitchen model. According to RedSeer Management Consulting, cloud kitchens are estimated to become a $2 billion industry in India by 2024 from $400 million in 2019. Trends such as DIY food kits, customised diets and shorter menus will gradually be adopted by restaurants and food businesses for a stronger hold. 

Cloud kitchens will help the restaurants and food business to survive the crisis with minimised operating costs, work with fewer employees, lower rental costs, accept online orders from social media or calls while focussing on designing better meal plans and food dishes. Another advantage of cloud kitchens is that the owner can run multiple food brands from the same kitchen serving various target groups at the same time. Cloud kitchens will operate their independent digital restaurants to collect orders which will help them save a significant amount of revenue than listing on aggregators. 

Five-Star Hotels Going the ‘online’ way

The pandemic heat is not only faced by small- medium-sized restaurants and food businesses. The renowned five-star hotel chains whose operating costs are higher are plagued by lower footfalls of tourists, are shifting to online food delivery of its gourmet dishes through its app. For instance, Taj Hotels will launch its online gourmet food delivery platform called Qmin. Through it, consumers can order food from the brand’s five-star restaurants, including Golden Dragon and Souk from Taj Mahal Palace, Thai Pavilion and Trattoria from President, and Ming Yang from Taj Lands End, among others. Similarly, Oberoi Hotels across India has established a home delivery system in place. The food can be ordered online or on-call by a customer and is delivered at their doorstep by the hotel’s service professionals.

Why Should I have my app or website for my online restaurant? 

Save more

Listing on aggregator food delivery apps results in small net profit. When customers order through a restaurant’s app or website the business owner has to pay a meagre transactional fee. 

Understand customers better

While selling from an aggregator platform, restaurants and food businesses are unable to receive direct feedback from customers. Whereas through an app or website, when backed by AI, can quickly identify the customer purchasing pattern, preferred payment method, food dishes one chooses and offer an optimised buying experience. 

Increase loyalty

It will be convenient for customers to place orders, customise them and opt for contactless delivery. The more we offer multiple options of payment and convenience at the fingertips they will engage more with the business food app. The restaurants can also reward the customers with points or coupons. 

An efficient marketing tool

The online presence will give customers a unique experience of ordering food. For instance, we can always provide food information to the customer which they want to order for example- food content about any gluten presence, vegan, spicy, calorie count, fat content, etc. 

It gives more autonomy over messaging. Any new dish the business wants to launch or offer discounts, offers, promotional campaigns and rewards they can convey through the app thus, making the app an efficient marketing tool. 

Restaurants and Food Business – From Offline to Online. How Shopify Helps? 

For any online eatery outlet or cloud kitchen, the online presence is the new physical presence. 

Hence, to all the restaurateurs, are you perplexed with the idea of online restaurants? Don’t be. Creating an online restaurant for your food business is easy with Shopify. Here are how restaurateurs can set their business online on Shopify  : 

Creating the account

Within a few clicks, restaurant owners can create an account on Shopify by entering email, password, and business name that is also the store’s default URL. After enrolling, Shopify offers a 14-day free trial, after the trial they can purchase or connect an existing URL for your default URL.

Selection of Theme

The ambiance and look of a restaurant or hotel play a  major role in attracting customers. The website themes add a personality to the online restaurant businesses and are similar to creating ambience. Shopify Theme Store has an array of themes to select from but for food businesses themes like Express, Avenue and Vantage are more apt. The themes are easily customisable that can be modified as per needs. 

Adding images of dishes

The images of delectable food dishes with complete information entice the customer to click on the ‘ Order Now’ button. Ensure that images of food dishes are of high quality and well plated. The photos of the image can be styled differently and showcase it as a full meal such as next to pancakes we can put milkshake or a waffle. Customers, albeit buying pancakes might order waffles looking at the image, therefore increasing sales. Apart from a well-shot image, we can include nutritional facts, ingredients, allergen information, and even reviews from other customers.

Adding videos of dishes

People would love to see how their favourite dishes are made, this entrusts belief among customers that the food is prepared with hygiene concerns in mind. Adding a video to the landing page boosts the conversion rate. Shopify’s app store has video maker apps that can integrate the product footage with text, background music, and effects. Such apps simplify video creation and in no time videos can be published on the restaurant’s website.

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Independent ordering platforms will save the commission charges paid to the aggregators that sometimes go upto 30 percent of the order value.

Adding gluten and vegan labels

Customers while browsing through your app or website will not know if the food has any allergen, gluten, or vegan content. Therefore, putting labels on the dishes such as ‘ Gluten’, ‘Contains Peanuts’, ‘Artificial Sweeteners or Vegan’ helps to establish transparency in information to the customers. The Shopify app store has apps such as ModeMagic that allow you to add product labels for specific food items in the menu without requiring customising the food images.  Adding food labels also boots conversion. 

Build your app from Shopify

With smartphones found in every pocket, most customers will pick out their mobile to find or read about something. Restaurateurs can transform their website into an app that works on Apple and Android Play Stores. With an app, we can boost customer loyalty, enhance brand awareness and bring repeat business. Shopify app store has apps that transform the website into a native app. We have the liberty to customise the look, feel of the business app and set up personalised experiences like loyalty programmes and food coupons.

Creating the online menu

To build your restaurant’s menu online, one needs to add product images and prices to the online store. The menu items require descriptive titles and accurate descriptions. After the images are added it needs to be structured under certain labels enabling easy navigation for customers. Here we are trying to replicate the dine-in experience of asking for a menu card online, doing this will bring consistency in offline and online dine-in. Therefore, the food images can be clubbed into collections like – Non-veg, Desserts, Thai dishes or can be classified based on discount codes. The ‘Collection’ feature in Shopify helps to highlight certain products on different pages of your website, apply discount codes to specific groups of products or showcase the bestselling dishes on your webpage. 

Information about your restaurant

An online presence is incomplete without the information of your business regarding who you are, what do you sell, and how you function. Restaurateurs must not forget to include these four crucial pages – company’s story, Hygiene standards followed, charity or cause that the business supports, refund policy, and contact page. Including such pages ensures customers have all the details they require about your food business before ordering. 

Tipping and Pop-up feature

We can include the tipping feature into the website by going to checkout customization from the Settings page on your Shopify dashboard and adding tipping options. When customers abandon the site without ordering we can add a pop-up feature to let customers know what they might miss, this at times pulls customers to place orders. Shopify has apps like Privy that add the pop-up feature to your site. 

Live Chat Support

To address customer grievances or FAQs, integrating a live chat app from the Shopify app store with the online website or app helps. Live chat helps Customers with responses to queries regarding delivery time, how much it will serve, gluten and allergen information, etc. The live chat feature improves customer service and increases retention. 

Shopify POS

Shopify POS enables visibility to the restaurateur by providing a consolidated platform displaying all orders, monitoring analytics, revenue generation, order management and managing loyalty. 

App for Store Pick-up or delivery

Shopify app store has apps for store pick-up or delivery. The integration of such apps with the online store will add options to the site or app and will aid customers to choose an order method whether a store pick-up or home delivery. 

Customise meals

Apps like Bold Product Options found in Shopify apps will allow customers to customise their food orders by selecting desserts, sauce, dips, toppings, and combo meals. Apps that help in customising meals to smoothen the ordering process for the customer. 

What is in it for the restaurants and food business? 

The phenomenon of eating inside began in India with the emergence of food aggregator apps Swiggy and Zomato, much before the industry was covid struck. In those times, owning an independent app or website for food ordering felt unimportant since a significant chunk of its revenues came from customer walk-ins. However, in the face of adversity, and changing customer behaviour, it is imperative for restaurant and food businesses to align themselves with the change and strengthen their online presence. 

Therefore, without much ado, set up your restaurant on Shopify and start taking orders. 

Shalmoli Sarkar
Shalmoli Sarkar
An MBA in marketing and a BTech in chemical engineering, Shalmoli writes on marketing strategies and business technology for new and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Your View Matters

  1. Again an excellent and relevant article by the author.
    Pl keep on writing like this. Very useful n well written.

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