Restaurant Tech Guide: Should You Build or Buy Your Ordering/Delivery System?


“Technology moves fast, but you shouldn’t have to chase it.” – Unknown

The online food ordering and delivery market has exploded in recent years. According to Statista, the market is expected to reach over $200 billion in sales globally by 2025. With on-demand delivery apps like UberEats, Grubhub and DoorDash gaining popularity, restaurants are feeling the pressure to get their own online ordering system up and running. 

However, building a custom food ordering and delivery platform from scratch requires significant investment. The question facing many restaurants now is – should you build your own system in-house, or simply buy an existing white-label solution? While building a custom platform does provide some advantages, for most restaurants, purchasing an off-the-shelf system is the most strategic option.

In this restaurant tech guide, we’ll break down the key factors to consider when deciding whether to build or buy your restaurant order management system. While developing a custom solution does give you more control, buying a white label platform helps you get online faster and save on upfront costs. 

Benefits of Building a Custom Online Ordering/Delivery System

Developing your own customized online ordering and delivery system from the ground up gives you complete control over the entire process. But that control comes at a steep price.

Building your own platform enables you to design features that cater specifically to your restaurant’s menu offerings, workflows and branding. If you want customers to order specialty cocktail kits along with their food, or you have an unusual kitchen prep process, then a custom solution tailored exactly to your needs makes sense. You also avoid being locked into another company’s technology roadmap and can modify as needed.

Having an in-house developed system also allows you to potentially stand out from competitors in your area. By offering unique personalized features or experiences, you create a ordering platform that feels completely your own. Customers may appreciate the extra touches and flair you can bake in.

In the long-run, once you have the system built, maintaining it with your internal tech teams may prove less costly than paying ongoing monthly fees to an ordering platform provider. However, the initial development costs are massive.

Challenges of Building a Custom System

While complete control over your ordering platform sounds enticing, embarking on a custom development project requires huge investments of time and money upfront.

Firstly, developing a robust ordering system from scratch costs big bucks. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, to hire teams of developers, QA testers, designers and product managers. Ongoing maintenance and feature upgrades down the road also require paying precious development resources.

Speaking of resources, you need to have dedicated IT and engineering talent on staff to undertake a custom build. Most restaurants simply don’t have this expertise in-house, so you’ll need to enlist outside help. Coordinating with external vendors takes more time and slows progress.

Even with ample financial capital and human resources secured, launching your own platform still won’t happen overnight. Designing, coding, testing, troubleshooting bugs – the development cycle drags on for months, if not years. In the meantime, you remain offline without ordering capabilities. Speed to market suffers significantly.

The specialized nature of food ordering also raises challenges. There’s a reason apps like UberEats are so dominant – this is their sole focus. Unless you’re a restaurant tech company foremost, recreating all the complex ordering/delivery logistics functionality is tough.

When issues inevitably arise after launch, your internal team must handle the burden of maintenance and feature enhancements. Instead of focusing energy on serving great food and hospitalty, your resources get diverted into being a software developer.

Benefits of Buying an Existing Online Ordering/Delivery System

Given the immense costs and risks of building your own platform, buying a white label ordering and delivery system from an established provider delivers big advantages.

The biggest benefit of the restaurant ordering system is speed. Signing up with an existing SaaS ordering solution gets you to market quickly, sometimes within weeks. You avoid months or years of custom development work. This accelerated launch helps you capitalize on consumer ordering habits as they continue shifting online.

Buying also saves tremendously on upfront costs. For a fraction of a custom build budget, you gain access to a proven ordering platform ready to deploy. No need to hire developers, purchase servers or map complex order fulfillment workflows. The costs of an off-the-shelf solution are predictable and contained.

A major advantage is tapping into the food ordering expertise an established vendor provides. Companies like ChowNow, BentoBox and Tock specialize in online ordering for the restaurant industry. They’ve already worked through the myriad complexities involved with meal ordering and delivery. Their platform encapsulates learnings you’d gain only through years of trial and error.

Offloading ordering system management also lets you stay focused on restaurant operations and hospitality. You don’t need to worry about maintaining code or fixing tech glitches. The vendor handles updates, improvements and troubleshooting for you. They actively develop the software, so you benefit from frequent enhancements.

Top Providers of White Label Ordering/Delivery Systems

Many excellent platforms exist for restaurants wanting to launch online ordering capabilities quickly and affordably. Here are some top providers to consider:

  • ChowNow – Focused specifically on helping restaurants facilitate pickup and delivery, ChowNow emphasizes streamlining online ordering into your existing processes. Their iOS and Android apps capture orders for pickup or delivery, integrate with POS systems, and offer marketing tools to promote your restaurant across channels. Pricing starts at 2.5% + $.50 per order.
  • Tock – Going beyond just ordering, Tock provides a full-service hospitality platform with tools for reservations, takeout, deliveries, and experiences. Their suite integrates directly with your internal systems. Pricing is customized based on your revenue tiers and features needed. Clients include world-renowned establishments like French Laundry.
  • Ordermark – Designed for large restaurant groups, Ordermark consolidates orders from multiple online channels into a single dashboard. This simplifies order management and synchronization across your locations. Pricing starts at 6% of sales.
  • GloriaFood – Used by chains like Burger King and Pizza Hut, GloriaFood focuses on enterprise-level online ordering needs. Their white label platform offers POS integration, analytics, promotions, loyalty programs, and more. Implementation costs around $1500.
  • Square Ordering – As an extension of their popular POS software, Square’s online ordering system syncs directly with your in-person sales data. Simplified menus and order management optimized for restaurants. Pricing based on transaction volume.

Key Considerations for Restaurants

The choice between building or buying your ordering system depends largely on your restaurant’s specific situation across a few key factors:

  • Expected Order Volume – If you anticipate very high order volume (500+ daily), the ongoing fees of some third party systems may outweigh a custom build. But you need data engineers.
  • Integration Needs – Assess how easily platforms connect with your POS, accounting, and inventory software. Seamless integration is essential.
  • Budget – Developing your own platform costs a fortune. Buying starts cheaper. Factor in ongoing costs too.
  • In-house Tech Expertise – If you don’t have skilled developers on staff already, building yourself is tough.

Conclusion & Recommendations

The verdict seems clear for most restaurants – buying an off-the-shelf white label ordering and delivery system is the most prudent choice. The plug-and-play convenience, faster go-live, and lower costs make using an existing SaaS platform the best option, rather than taking on the expense and risks of custom development.

Focus your search on vendors catering specifically to the food and hospitality vertical. They understand the nuances. Opt for ones that integrate seamlessly with your backend systems. And partner with a provider invested in frequently enhancing their platform, so you continuously benefit from new innovations.

The build vs buy decision depends largely on your existing technical capabilities and appetite for investing heavily in software development. For most restaurants, buying a specialized white label ordering system allows you to meet digital demands fast without getting bogged down in engineering complexities. That lets you stay focused on serving up great food and delivering top-notch hospitality.

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