The Truth About Free Online Ordering Systems for Restaurants

By ChowNowMay 1st, 2019

Why Having a Free Online Ordering System Will Hurt Your Restaurant
Restaurants have notoriously thin margins—the average net profit for full-service establishments is currently at a relative high of 6.1%. It makes perfect sense for restaurateurs to attempt to cut costs wherever they can, including on their technology budget. But, while signing up for a free online ordering system might sound like a good idea, unfortunately, you’ll get what you pay for.

What do you get with a free online ordering system?

Free online ordering systems—along with low-cost systems that might be thrown in at no extra charge with your POS package—have a very limited set of capabilities.

When you sign up for a free system like GloriaFood, you’ll simply get access to a widget that lets you take orders on your website. Want a custom mobile ordering app? Need help implementing the widget? Worried about support and security? It’ll cost you.

How to Set Up a Free Online Ordering System

Online ordering systems may seem straightforward, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, especially during implementation. If you don’t pay a trusted, expert company to do it the right way, you’ll end up wasting your time and money.

If you go the free route and decide to undertake the work on your own, you’ll have a lot to do. You’ll need to know how to correctly install the widget on your website before you can take online orders. You’ll also have to upload your menu into the software manually and make sure that all of your dishes (and modifiers) are properly configured.

Why Free Online Ordering Systems Are A Bad Idea


Accepting payments online—which is a key reason why online ordering increases your restaurant’s efficiency and profits—is yet another issue when it comes to free online ordering systems. GloriaFood, for example, charges restaurants $30 per month just to take credit cards online. Suddenly, free restaurant ordering apps aren’t quite so cost-effective.

Find out what you should look for in an online ordering system by getting our guide, “4 Steps for Choosing an Online Ordering Partner.”

Read the Guide

What happens when things go wrong?

Your restaurant’s online ordering provider should be dedicated to the long-term success of your restaurant and its takeout business. If you use a free online ordering system, you’ll miss out on critical support and security.

When things don’t go as planned, it’s crucial to have a well-trained customer support representative pick up your call. That representative should go above and beyond in helping you solve whatever issue is at hand, whether it’s mapping delivery zones or troubleshooting an error on your website. If you work with a free online ordering provider, this type of customer service certainly can’t be guaranteed.

It’s arguably even more important for your online ordering provider to have your back in case of fraud. Let’s say your restaurant gets hit with a chargeback—a reversal of a credit card payment due to a disputed credit card transaction. While software providers work hard to prevent fraud, a certain amount of chargebacks is inevitable, especially considering that fraud in the food and beverage industry has grown by 79% in the last year.

Free online ordering systems offer zero coverage when your restaurant is hit with a chargeback. You and your business will be on the hook for refunding credit card companies with money—potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars—that you don’t have. In the online ordering industry, it’s rare for vendors to cover chargebacks. ChowNow is one of the very few that offers its restaurant partners 100% protection.

…And when things go right?

Even when it’s business as usual, add-on and free restaurant ordering apps fall short. You’ll be limited from the outset, since the majority of these providers only allow you to accept orders on your website—not though your own custom restaurant app, Yelp profile, or Google listings.

Free and add-on systems also lack the resources to help you expand your online ordering business. If there’s no single point of contact working with you, there’s probably no one helping you with strategic planning. Meanwhile, menu optimizations, email marketing, and promotional materials are all out of the question. Essentially, if you want to increase your customer base, repeat orders, or check sizes, you’re on your own.

Here's why getting a free online ordering system isn't a good idea.

The solution? Online ordering that supports your business.

While quality online ordering platforms are never free, the right one won’t be cost-prohibitive either.

In ChowNow’s case, restaurant partners pay a low, flat monthly fee in exchange for industry-leading technology, 24/7 support, consulting, valuable marketing data, and promotional materials. That type of partnership more than pays for itself: The typical restaurant on ChowNow recoups the cost of a year’s worth of service in their first month on our platform.

Interested in doing online ordering the right way? Read our four-step guide to finding the perfect online ordering partner, or go ahead and schedule a call with an online ordering specialist today.

More Articles Like This