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Vive la révolution

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

Choosing a digital menu system

April 2022

Digital Menus

Digital transformation is revolutionising all industries from manufacturing to horse racing, and it has come to the food and beverage industry in a rush. That rush is not only driven by a Covid related desire to minimise contact but also from the recognition that it can enhance customer engagement and deliver efficiencies in operations and promotional activities. It is unlikely to revert or even slow down as millennials drive their lives from their phones and their disposable income for restaurants bars, clubs and cafés is on the rise.

The starting point for digital transformation in the food and beverage industry is embracing a mobile menu app. In principle this could simply be a series of images showing your menu then relying on your existing ordering and payment processes. In practice, this approach delivers few of the benefits so the focus here will be on an app that allows your customers to browse, order and pay from their phone. They should all be able to use QR codes and some will also be available via an icon on your home screen.

Paper menus need to be reprinted whenever updates are required or become unsightly due to wear and tear. It is also difficult to include specials, so a menu insert or chalk board needs to be managed. A well designed menu app can be updated from your phone wherever and whenever you like. Eliminating the paper means eliminating the cost associated with keeping them up to date. Some solutions require clunky desktop editors or, worse still, interaction with the app service provider. These should be avoided as they add cost and time.

Because customers can order as quickly and often as they want, they are never waiting for service. In turn wait staff don’t need to be involved in the transactional side of the service, instead focusing on things that I’m enhance the customer experience.

Getting up and going

The largest impediment to getting started with a menu app is fear of the unknown. Will there be excessive or hidden costs? Do I trust them to take payments? Will it be hard or expensive to onboard your business and to build and edit the menu?

Looking at cost concerns, the tip for pricing is to understand the total costs which may include:

  • Subscription fees

  • Transaction fees (when customer orders and when the venue is paid out)

  • Set-up and onboarding fees

  • Menu maintenance fees

  • Reservation fees (if the system has a reservation capability)

The app provider should find it easy to clearly articulate the fees and a lack of clarity might be a red flag.

The next impediment revolves around trusting the app to take payments. This is largely an issue of whether the payment gateway for credit card processing is safe and secure and whether you are comfortable that you will get paid after the customer is charged? There is also a question around whether you still need existing EFTPOS machines?

Trust is hard to build and easy to destroy so build up to it with a series of “trust tests”. Learning who else uses the same payment gateways creates an initial level of confidence that those companies have likely done a level of due diligence that would be prohibitive for you to do. Create a test menu item of low value so you can test the money flow to see if it matches what the app provider told you. Choose an app that provides the flexibility to order and pay through the app but also order through the app but pay through your normal processes. This provides a backup for most unforeseen problems.

As for concerns about difficult or costly onboarding i.e., setting up the venue, opening/closing times, payment mechanisms and the menu itself. It makes sense to focus your effort on apps that were designed to enable self-service for onboarding rather than requiring a protracted service. Not only does this reduce upfront costs (possibly to $0) it will reduce the cost and effort required for ongoing maintenance of the system and, you can always request assistance if you need it.

Once everything is set up, the next issue is to understand how to integrate this ordering system into the workflows of your venue. In my experience the best systems will provide a way to start with paper, usually via email, that can be used with an existing manual docketing

system but also provide a fully digital option. Starting with the existing workflow means you are not changing too many things at one and overwhelming staff. When you are confident in the basic operation of the app, the next step is to go fully digital with the workflow. This is often based on tablets, or other touch screen devices. I plan to discuss this further in another post.

Branding, loyalty, and marketing

As a venue customer I find it irritating, when using an app to order, and all the branding is for the app provider. The look of the ordering system, the text in receipts and confirmations reflect the app provider. Great for their branding but not for yours. Better to choose a system that puts your imagery and branding ahead of that of the app provider. If the app can install on your customers home screen, do you want them to see your suppliers name and logo or yours?

Branding is also about how frictionless and intuitive it is for your customers to use. Historically, digital menus started life as web sites and then adapted to fit on a phone. Perhaps they were built using a conventional eCommerce platform or on the back of a legacy POS system. For your customers, the screen navigation is always just a bit off, and some items don’t quite fit the form factor of the phone. The more modern apps are designed and built with a modern mobile app framework. Sure, it will work on other devices but primarily the user interface puts the mobile first, using user interface and navigation methods consistent with their other apps.

Finally, as all the information about what was ordered and who ordered it is collected digitally, it can form the basis of analytics for planning and a loyalty program to promote to and reward your most loyal customers. To ensure that your customers approve of being part of a loyalty program, ensure the app has an “opt in” facility. Opting in gives you permission to use their details for promotional communications and offers etc.

Comparisen checklist


Option 1

Option 2

Full interactive digital menu

Trusted payment gateway

​Subscription fees

Transaction fee

Set-up and onboarding fees

Menu maintenance fees

Reservation fees

Order with/without in app payments

Customer loyalty spend

Paper & Digital venue workflow

Branded app icon & imagery

Specialist hardware

About StoreFront: StoreFront is a mobile first eCommerce platform providing a digital menu, ordering and payment system for the food and beverage industry. Proudly created and operated in Australia

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