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NAU Hospitality Experts Discuss Online Transactions to Keep Restaurants in Business

With losses to the nation’s restaurant industry totaling about $250 billion in sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) is stressing the importance of digital ordering services. HRM Executive Director Fred DeMicco and Center for Business Outreach faculty member Muhittin “Tim” Cavusoglu created a webinar, “Navigating Online Orders in the Food Industry,” to help restaurateurs stay in business and create contact-free transactions.

“We knew a lot of the big restaurant names would have the capacity for this online technology, but many smaller businesses might not,” DeMicco said. “We wanted to come up with a solution for the restaurants so they could have online ordering by smartphones and be able to stay open and even just stay in business.”

Cavusoglu broke down the process of selecting a digital online service and stressed understanding the four components of a delivery program: marketplace, menu, logistics and feedback, placing an emphasis on feedback.

“Feedback, feedback and feedback,” Cavusoglu said. “This is very, very important for us. We need to learn from our customers. We need to learn about their expectations, we need to learn about how we are doing, whether we are doing good or bad. We need to communicate so whenever there is an issue, we need to respond and be transparent to our customers.”

Other tips included limiting the menu to fewer than 50 items so customers won’t become fatigued from scrolling, and finding a user-friendly platform for customers that adapts to a variety of devices.

Cavusoglu also presented a list of considerations, but emphasized the importance of pricing, integration with previous software and user friendliness – on the business side – so owners can update their menus regularly. System integration also focused on social media as an outlet for ordering, attracting millennials and Gen Z users. The different media platforms can boost the use of marketing tools and keep communication alive between restaurants and customers. Some online systems can schedule updates and promotions to be sent out via text or email.

Those recommendations come from the research Cavusoglu does as part of the Hospitality Innovative Technology (HIT) laboratory in the HRM department. The lab tests hardware and software to help those in the industry come up with viable solutions to meet customer needs.

“We love to support the local community here and we will keep doing it with our HIT lab, so I will always be available for the local businesses here,” Cavusoglu said. “So, what I did, I considered creating a customized design for them, but then I saw that it was expensive and it required a lot of expertise to maintain, so it would cost a lot. I tried to search for some other third-party applications and I found one called GloriaFood.”

He says GloriaFood is completely free, with no hidden fees, and its appearance on several Top 10 app lists indicates quality service. A demonstration of the service was provided during the webinar.

With help from HRM, Macayo’s Mexican Food restaurants in the Phoenix area incorporated the use of GloriaFood, which owner Nava Singam says has drastically helped restore business during the pandemic. “The guidance in going online was tremendous,” Singam said. “It was really quick for us to get online with Gloria.”

In two days, the entire brand was ready to execute the new online delivery process. Singam brought in more drivers to make deliveries, which allowed the restaurants to avoid paying surcharges and third-party aggregators. He says he’s seen a significant amount of business recovered since the online system was implemented and believes that after the pandemic subsides, this could be a way to increase business long-term.

The HRM presentation was part of the “Small Business Bootcamp & Resource Collective” webinar series developed by Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA). One-hour sessions, scheduled from 9-10 a.m. Monday through Thursday, cover a variety of topics, including workplace safety, boosting sales and how big businesses such as Target have created resources to help small businesses thrive.

To participate in the webinars, visit the ACA website at azcommerce.com/small-business-boot-camp/. FBN

By Jacklyn Walling and Bonnie Stevens, FBN

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