Food trucks, ghost kitchens, and pop-ups let restaurateurs extend their skills and businesses beyond their brick-and-mortar locations (and could help them keep their businesses going while their storefronts are limited by COVID-19 guidelines). But they also create a greater need for maintaining an online presence.

According to Restaurant Business, consumers are skeptical of virtual kitchens and eateries without set physical locations. Establishing and investing in an online presence can help win their awareness and loyalty. Your website, social media accounts, and online reviews will generate critical data around your menu, customers, operations, and traffic. But it's your partnerships with other local businesses that can help turn your online presence into a winning one.

How an end-to-end restaurant solution can help.

A lean business model means embracing change, letting go of traditional restaurant methods, and focusing on optimizing your menu and labor to a smaller space that caters to pickup and delivery. You must have a website, a Google listing, social media accounts, and an online ordering system—but you can't leave them unattended. You have to manage your restaurant's online presence from every angle.

Investing in an all-in-one solution that includes a website, a point-of-sale system, reputation management tools, a loyalty program, and email marketing tools will save time, money, and effort. All-in-one solutions also often provide insight into what menu items are underperforming, where your most loyal customers are, when your business is busiest, and more. Imagine being able to find the most successful locations for your food truck, quickly change your menu if a new offering is underperforming, and streamline staffing at low-volume times to reduce costs. That's what an all-in-one solution can enable.

Leverage your partnerships.

A small business's success is often tied to the strength of its partnerships—so it helps to connect with folks who already have an online following.

For example, food trucks and pop-up restaurants can go wherever they're needed or wherever there's space. Partnering with a business that doesn't have a kitchen but whose customers might be hungry—such as a microbrewery or a garden shop that's open to foot traffic—can help build your online presence as you establish a new physical customer base.

Introduce yourself to potential diners and showcase your offerings. If you're operating a pop-up or a ghost kitchen inside another restaurant, that restaurant will most likely have diner-specific information they could share. The trick is to find an offering that complements your new partner's.

You could also ask your partner to share your website and online ordering links on its social media accounts, and you could offer surveys to your shared customers to learn what diners are looking for. Stay on top of your reviews, too—your partnership's a reflection on both of your brands.

Encourage reviews and takeout orders.

Third-party delivery services can help get your food to hungry people, but they come at a cost. Encouraging walk-up and takeout orders could help you protect your bottom line. Even if it's limited by COVID-19 safety guidelines, a location open to walk-up traffic helps showcase your brand. Guests can see your operation at work and share their experiences online. Offer special promotions—or even extra menu items — to customers who order takeout. Encourage them to leave reviews by placing a QR code next to your point-of-sale system or on the pickup counter.

If you're running a ghost kitchen, you need to encourage online reviews in place of face-to-face interaction. Consumers need to get to know your brand. Customer feedback— and how you respond to it—will drive online word-of-mouth. Consider providing special offers to customers who use your preferred delivery services, too.

Whatever form your off-premises dining model takes— food truck, pop-up, or ghost kitchen—you'll need to develop an online presence to find and keep customers. The right digital solution will help you do that—and it could also streamline your menu, staffing, marketing, and sales with minimal effort and maximum return.

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