Restaurants pushing digital orders in the labor shortage could mean diners asking for more food because they don’t feel judged by servers, an expert says

Restaurant server US
Digital ordering could lead to customers placing bigger orders – and restaurants getting more profits. Noam Galai/Getty Images
  • Diners feel less embarrassed asking for bigger meals when ordering digitally, an expert told the WSJ.
  • Restaurants have turned to apps or QR codes for ordering during the pandemic and the US labor shortage.
  • “People order more and the tables turn over faster, because they can get their orders and they can get their bills sooner,” Deepthi Prakash said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Restaurants are rolling out ways for customers to order digitally, which could lead to diners placing bigger orders because they can hide their embarrassment from servers, one expert has said.

When customers order digitally, rather than through a server, they’re more likely to choose the food they really want, Deepthi Prakash, global director of product and marketing at advertising agency TBWA Worldwide, told The Wall Street Journal.

This is because they don’t have to worry about servers judging them, she said.

“People order more and the tables turn over faster, because they can get their orders and they can get their bills sooner,” Prakash, who previously worked as a restaurant experience design consultant, told the publication.

This could therefore create bigger profits for restaurants.

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During the pandemic, restaurants have been pushing dine-in customers to order using apps or QR codes printed on menus or glued on tables. Starbucks is encouraging customers to order in advance on their phones for drinks-to-go, while Taco Bell is pushing digital kiosks and is even rolling out a new restaurant format based on mobile ordering.

Close-up shot of a tabletop sign holder with a sign reading 'Parada, New Peru' with a QR code visible at the Parada Kitchen Peruvian Restaurant in Walnut Creek, California, February, 2021
Restaurants have been pushing customers to order using apps, QR codes, and kiosks during the pandemic. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

As mobile and drive-thru sales soared during the pandemic, Starbucks customers placed fewer orders – but they were more expensive, Insider’s Mary Meisenzahl reported. This is down to a mix of customers placing bigger orders and getting more modifications.

“I feel like there’s an aspect of shame when you’re standing in front of a register, you have to look at a person and tell them all the things you want in your drink,” a former Los Angeles Starbucks barista told Insider.

Starbucks baristas said that customers often ask for weirder and more complicated drinks when they order via its app. This includes bizarre TikTok-inspired drinks or beverages with excessive modifications, such as an iced latte with 12 shots of coffee and five shots of hazelnut syrup.

Digital ordering could help keep revenues up during the labor shortage

Starbucks was one of the first restaurants to widely roll out mobile ordering.

“There’s nothing else like it,” David Bagley, managing director at Carls Marks Advisors, told Insider. “They’re doing something that really every other restaurant should have done years ago”

Many chains are lagging behind Starbucks on mobile ordering, but are finding other ways to drive digital orders.

Even before the pandemic, rising wages in the restaurant industry meant that chains like McDonald’s had been turning to kiosk ordering to keep down staff costs, Andrew Lapin, a lawyer specializing in retail at Robbins, Salomon, and Patt, told Insider.

And restaurants are currently scrambling to find workers amid a huge labor shortage across the US, which could make digital ways of ordering, like through apps, kiosks, and QR codes, even more attractive.