Highlights

Tips for SMEs to Boost Online Food Sales by Chula Marketing Expert


Chula marketing expert suggests marketing tips for SMEs’ success in food delivery — know your strengths, know your customers, and use eye-catching food images as appealing as the food taste.


Food delivery is part of the modern lifestyle, especially among consumers who find it inconvenient to leave their home or office, even more so, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past two years, the need for self-isolation and social distancing has boosted the demand for online food services even further.  More buyers naturally generate a higher number and variety of sellers.

As the online food delivery business has become increasingly competitive, Asst. Prof. Dr. Kritinee Pongtanalert, Department of Marketing, Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy, Chulalongkorn University, shares some marketing techniques to increase sales for small food business owners who may not be familiar with online platforms.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Kritinee Pongtanalert, Department of Marketing, Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy, Chulalongkorn University
Asst. Prof. Dr. Kritinee Pongtanalert,
Department of Marketing, Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy, Chulalongkorn University

“If you want to start an online restaurant, the most important thing is to determine what food you wish to sell and to whom. Every restaurant has a menu, but you have to know what you will sell and to whom.  Who will be happy to receive your products and services?”

Create a clear selling point

For all types of restaurants, big or small, promoting the selling points or strengths is essential. Business owners need to analyze the strengths of the food they sell, to better communicate the restaurant’s identity with customers.  Selling points can be divided into three categories: 

1. Selling taste

Restaurant owners must be able to answer the following questions:  What taste was the restaurant famous for before the COVID-19 crisis?  Which are the flagship dishes that are so famous and memorable for customers?

2. Selling speed

Restaurants famous for their speed always make some food ahead, such as grilled pork, and fried chicken. When customers order, they are ready to cook the food a little more and then pack it for immediate delivery. This is the strength that is great for customers who want fast food or are in a hurry.  It’s better yet if you can specify the wait time in minutes.

3. Selling convenience

Some customers may want to eat late at night when most restaurants are closed.  If you can open your restaurants during this period, you will stand out as an alternative to customers when choices are limited.  In addition, you may add other conveniences, such as give free drinks or let the customer pay a bit more to get the drink with food purchase.  Offering value meals, or family sets also adds charm and ease of ordering.

Moreover, some stores also increase sales with fun activities to engage customers, such as ice cream shops that invite customers to add their choices of toppings or build their ice cream from cones to spoons, while some shabu-shabu restaurants sell an electric hot pot with the food if customers want.

What food are you selling? Whom are you selling to?

What food are you selling?Whom are you selling to?
One-dish mealssingle customers
variety of foodcustomers eating in pairs
Fine Diningcustomers eating as a family
Customers buying for someone else
The table shows an example of food types and customer groups analysis

The shop owners must first analyze “what to sell” and “whom to sell to”, which is to clearly define the target audience. Do not think that you will sell to everyone because you can’t reach all groups of people. If you insist, you may not sell to anyone. Below is a sample table for analysis of food types and their target audience.

If you analyze fine dining restaurants according to this table, they usually sell food with luxurious service. Advanced reservation is necessary and often customers come in groups such as families.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, a posh restaurant with elegant decor with impressive service is meaningless.  These restaurants need to adapt to survive by turning to full online operation. The owners also have to design new sets of dishes to meet the needs of the whole family, while adjusting the price to be more reasonable.  A limited number of sets per day should be specified to ensure efficient raw materials management while maintaining the same standards of quality in food taste, reputation, and care.

The above example shows that even with the new model, the same target customers can still be reached as usual. This presents a new opportunity to try selling in the online market where they can get to know new customers as well. A systematic analysis like this will benefit business owners in designing food sets based on customer behaviors and sizes.  Those who want to know their customers better can observe and take notes to compile the statistics on the types of best-selling items (single set, couple set, or party sets).  This will provide the restaurateurs with customer insights.

How to make customers choose your restaurant?

Many customers come to buy food on the application without knowing their choice of restaurant in advance. This group of customers is a golden opportunity for the restaurant to showcase itself with food images known as “finger-stopping shots”.  This technique is worth trying because customers usually continue to scroll through the screen with their fingers on their cell phones until they stumble upon eye-catching food photos.  Though some restaurant owners trust their food quality and taste that they may underestimate the potential of marketing communications, there is no denying that in an online marketplace filled with hundreds of thousands of dishes, pictures still say a thousand powerful words that influence a purchase decision.

1. Showcase flagship dishes instead of the restaurant name

If the customers do not specify the restaurant, they are always on the lookout for familiar restaurant names to reduce the risk of disappointment in new restaurants. Putting up just one dish or a special product as the top-of-mind image would be more effective than presenting a full table of deliciousness but customers can’t remember anything. More importantly, this will benefit entrepreneurs in planning the order of raw materials that closely match the actual sales. This is another tip for success in online business management.

2. Catchy Name, memorable menu, customers know what you sell

Business owners should create memorable names and menus that appeal to customers, reflecting their specialty. This will attract customers’ attention and make it easy to recall and communicate clearly what your restaurant sells. The exceptions are that the name should not be too peculiar to understand, or so far-fetched that customers cannot figure out what you sell, and may reject your brand hurting the reputation of the restaurant.

How to get repeat business

Displaying many food images on the screen to reflect a wide variety of products may hurt purchase decisions.  This may confuse customers as they cannot single out appealing items from the cluster.  Selective display of food items complemented by a solid pricing strategy will help customers make quicker decisions. Initially, you may offer a food combo in a set meal of complementing items, such as rice and soup, with a free drink or offer sets by the number of people, like personal sets, sets for two, family sets, or office sets.

The bundle sale technique is also effective.  You can offer other menu items at a special price with an order of a regular meal set. This technique can help increase sales volumes, for example, if a customer buys a single dish, you may offer the customer to pay a little more to get a free drink. The important thing that will make customers come back again is the first impression of the service through their direct experience, be it the food taste, the products that fit the descriptions, speedy service and a charming touch like a thank you card from the chef or a gift.

The sense of kinship and warmth found in the Chula community is priceless and a treasure worth keeping.

Prof. Dr. Pornanong Aramwit Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University