There’s a RIGHT way to use online ordering platforms as a restaurant owner.  Once you’ve chosen the right portal for your business, you should list your restaurant, market your online menu, and start watching the orders pour in.  It’s a pretty straightforward process and a pretty straightforward system. As long as every restaurant owner uses their preferred online ordering platform in a similar manner, everything works out for everyone.

Unfortunately, some restaurant owners have started using online ordering platforms the “wrong way” in an attempt to gain an advantage over the competition.   In some markets, restaurant owners have been listing multiple “ghost” versions of their business to hopefully boost their orders.  But, this practice hurts everyone in the end, from consumers to online ordering platforms to restaurant owners.  Here’s a closer look.

“Ghost” Restaurants

On big online ordering platforms like GrubHub, Seamless, and Eat24, restaurants can often pay a higher premium in order to appear higher in customer search results.  But, some restaurant owners have discovered that by listing multiple versions of their restaurant under different names, they can “game the system,” and have a leg-up in search results without paying a higher commission rate on orders.

In some markets, like New York City, this practice of listing multiple “ghost” versions of a restaurant has evolved to the next level.  Some “restaurants” listed on Seamless have been discovered to actually be home kitchens, with no business license or health department oversight.  Ultimately, one of the offenses may sound worse than the other, but both have negative consequences for restaurant owners in the end.

The immediate reasoning behind using online ordering platforms the “wrong way” by listing multiple version of your restaurant is obvious: more listings means more exposure, which can mean more business.  But, when you step back and think about what creating “ghost” restaurant listings can do for your customer relationships in the long run, there’s no real reason to use platforms this way.  Here are a few of the potential consequences of using online ordering platforms the “wrong way.”

What Happens When You Use Online Ordering Platforms the “Wrong Way”

As the Time article cited above demonstrates, in the long run it is hard to get away with using online ordering platforms the “wrong way.”  If and when you do get caught, there are a few major consequences that your restaurant could face.

1. Online Ordering Sanctions

Platforms like Seamless and others don’t want restaurant owners to abuse the system and list “ghost restaurants,” and if you are caught doing so you may face sanctions from your online ordering platform of choice.  Look closely at the “Terms of Service” of whichever platform you prefer, and look for the sanctions that can be put into place based on inappropriate use.

2. Loss of Customer Trust

As mentioned above, one of the most serious consequences you can face by abusing online ordering is that your favorite customers may lose faith in your business.  Once your restaurant is hit with a scandal like listing many “ghost” clones on an online ordering platform, there isn’t much you can do to ever truly win back customer loyalty.  If you value the relationships you have built up with trusted customers over the years, using online ordering the “wrong way” can be a disastrous choice.

3. Loss of Future Revenue

The online ordering revolution is growing at a tremendous rate, and 2016 will probably be a bigger year for online ordering than the tremendous 2015 was.  By ruining your reputation on online ordering platforms, and potentially facing sanctions from your favorite platforms, you can miss the chance to cash in on the extra revenue that online ordering can bring into restaurants that follow the rules.  Doing it the “wrong way” might feel profitable in the short term, but in the long run you can get a lot more out of online ordering by not abusing the system.

Getting Ahead With Online Ordering the “Right Way”

Trying to “game the system” by listing multiple versions of your restaurant on online ordering platforms won’t help you get ahead in the end, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to gain a competitive edge by using online ordering  the “right way.”

For starters, use online ordering as a promotional opportunity, since your menu being available for online take-out and delivery is big news.  Share copies of your online ordering menu through email and social media.  Consistently share out links to your online ordering profiles, and your business will grow as a result.  Online ordering is great for promotion and gives you something worthwhile to talk to your fans about, but that’s only the case if you are using online ordering the “right way.”  In the long run, online ordering can help you bring in a tremendous amount of revenue, but trying to take advantage of platforms won’t do your business any favors.