Should Your Restaurant Offer "Online Only" Specials?

Posted on June 4th, 2018 by Breck Hapner

As a consumer-conscious restaurant, you probably know how important online ordering for independent restaurants is.

With the growing popularity of delivery integrations for restaurants like GrubHubSkipTheDishes,, EatStreet and Postmates, there are more consumers opting to dine in and have food delivered to their homes from their favorite restaurants.

So, the question then is, how important are online only specials? Should you have them?

After all, people coming to your restaurant probably love taking advantage of daily or limited-time discounts. So, offering discounts online could help you boost sales of certain menu items too, right?

Well, there are a few questions worth asking if you’re thinking about offering online only specials.

Would Your Customers Become Confused?

Let’s say a regular of yours sees a deal on their favorite menu item online. So, they come to your restaurant only to find the discount not available.

They ask the server, but they don’t know. The manager isn’t sure either.

The customer leaves disappointed, wondering if they had missed the special offer, if they had been misled, or if they were looking at the wrong website.

Fortunately, there are some simple ways of managing this. You can ensure that every online offer is marked “this discount only applies to online offers”. You can also make sure your staff is aware of both in-restaurant and online deals. That way, they’ll know how to handle any questions that may come their way.

Would Discounts Devalue Your Restaurant?

Pricing in a restaurant tends to work differently than in a retail space. At a retailer, when an item is new, the price starts high. Then, when it’s time to get a shipment of new items in to replace the old ones, the price for the product bottoms out at the clearance rack or bin. Sales and discounts are offered intermittently during that time.

Restaurants must be much more strategic with their pricing. The wrong promotion at the wrong time may harm revenue figures and even devalue your restaurant or damage your reputation.

Consumers are more educated than ever. So, they tend to be able to sniff out whether a deal is a legitimate promotion or a business’ desperate attempt to generate more traffic. If there’s a dramatic reduction to price, then consumers may assume the latter.

Does It Make Good Business Sense?

Perhaps the most important consideration when deciding whether to offer an online special is to ensure that it makes good business sense.

This isn’t to suggest that a promotion must always make money, as that’s not the case. In many businesses, loss leaders are used to stimulate interest upfront and to make money on the backend with a separate offer. This might be a worthwhile strategy depending on your situation.

It’s also worth looking at the long-term potential. Could you convert some first-timers into recurring customers? Will the added exposure help you generate more business down the line?

If you can get your customer hooked on a menu item, then the long-term potential is certainly there.

Will It Help You Build Your Brand?

Sometimes, a restaurant has a stronger offline presence than online presence and vice versa.

If offering an online only special helps you build more awareness for your brand in a space where you’re lesser known, the added exposure may prove valuable to your restaurant.

As already noted, sometimes this can backfire, and your business ends up becoming devalued. So, be sure you are mindful of how you’re going about positioning your offer.

Final Thoughts

Should you offer online only specials? The answer, in most cases, is “yes”.  We can help your restaurant implement with custom Qu API and UX development and custom Olo API and UX development. But you must be strategic. You must be aware of whether your customers will become confused, if the offer would devalue your restaurant, whether it makes good business sense, and whether it will help you build your brand.

Integrating An Online Program 

If you need a web design built from scratch or are interested in web development, the team at DineEngine® can help you realize your vision. We will fully integrate your APIs across your point of sale, online ordering, loyalty & reward programs and any other customer touchpoint, seamlessly across all channels with our innovative integration platform. We are eager to hear about your design goals so we can create a responsive site that will give your customers an excellent online experience.