How to navigate the confusing ordering and payment app landscape

The hospitality industry has not always adopted technology as quickly as it might. After all, going to the pub is about meeting people and having personal experiences. It’s a chance to have fun, receive great service, get to know the bar staff, be wowed by the perfect serve or savour the delicious menu printed on elegant paper. 

Adding a screen, app or automated process into the equation has been considered a quick way to kill the ambience. Who wants to walk into a beautiful old Inn or a cool bar only to see a completely out-of-place piece of tech that renders the customer little more than a number on a screen?

However, as many know too well, COVID-19 has disrupted the industry hugely. With establishments continuing to serve tentatively, it’s imperative that they look to technology to meet the government guidelines for reopening.

These require use of table service where possible instead of ordering at the bar, and encourage use of contactless ordering from tables through an app. However, that’s where the guidance ends. 

This has presented a huge challenge – especially for smaller businesses and independents, which may have rushed to choose an app, or are still in the process of finding one. While the big players have their own, not everyone has the capacity to build software from scratch – and in most cases, they needn’t.

So, what are the options and what factors should the on-trade consider as we settle into a new way of working? In addition, what are the benefits that come with the tech and how can we see this as an opportunity rather than a threat?

Considering the app market

The first challenge a landlord, proprietor or restauranteur might face is the sheer volume of apps out there. Obviously, there have been plenty available for some time, but many more have come to market and are investing heavily in getting attention. There’s app2table, Dines, Hungrrr, KitchenCut, OrderPay, Pepper, Sort-It, Swiftly, Tabology and Yoello to name but a few. 

The key functions that any establishment should consider are: does it allow people to order food and drink? Does it allow customers to make a payment? Can they book a table? The first two are the basics and should be considered absolute musts. The third is something to think about, but not all apps offer this. Swiftly, launched by Heineken, does all three. Importantly, it doesn’t require businesses to serve Heineken, although those that do receive preferential pricing.

It’s also crucial to factor in costs. There’s a mix of options, which includes upfront payments, registration fees, monthly subscriptions and commissions on sales. Each app has its own offering. For example, Dines has no set-up fee or contracts and its basic package takes 2.5% commission, plus 20p per transaction. 

On the other hand, SortIt starts at £25 per month with a £99 set-up fee. Ultimately, the decision is in the hands of the pub, bar or restaurant and will depend on the number of customers and whether they prefer a fixed or variable cost. Also, check to see if plans are flexible and can be changed.  

The next item on the check-list whether you can “whitelabel” the app. That is to say, you can add your own branding to make it look and feel as if it’s your own. This might not be a necessity, but will enhance the experience for customers. app2table, OrderPay and Tabology offer this among others. Again, the pricing plans for this vary from app to app. 

It’s also worth checking if the app allows additional services, such as toilet requests, prompting staff to implement cleaning processes between customers. This is unique to SortIt. In addition, how will an app integrate with your other systems, such as tills and printers? Many offer this functionality, but it’s worth checking your existing technology and how it might fit in. 

An interesting consideration is whether you actually need an app at all. It might it be easier just to have a browser-based system or one that uses QR codes. Some customers just don’t want to download yet another app – especially if they think they’ll not be making a repeat visit, perhaps because they’re only in the area for a visit. Dines has been built to work as an app and from any smartphone’s web browser. Yoello requires no app download.

Finally, and perhaps the most important consideration of all, is security. Let’s remember that any business using these apps will be entrusting customer information and payment details to it. All of those available will meet certain standards, but it’s worth looking for ones that can prove their trustworthiness. 

For example, Yoello is authorised and regulated by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) as a secure and trusted Payment Institution. Make sure you’re confident and check any app’s credentials – especially if you find one that’s newer to market, relatively unknown or even offering itself free. 

Looking to the future

With apps creating a new relationship between customers and the on-trade it’s worth thinking about how this might be a huge opportunity rather than a troublesome hurdle. Many are able to offer new customer insights and databases. 

This presents marketing opportunities and the chance to create personalised offers. While the quality of bar staff and service will always play a role, perhaps now’s the time to start encouraging people in with deals that you know they’ll love. What’s not to like? A great pub that knows what its clientele love and is willing to give a discount and a friendly welcome?

Equally, apps can help link sales to your supply chain more effectively. Some of the larger, more established developers allow this. It might sound over the top for an independent, but could spell the end of certain drinks running out mid-shift. For food, it can also help manage wastage, maximising profits and building a more robust business. 

Another benefit to consider is that an app will allow the transition to a cashless future. This removes the need to cash-up each night and reduces wasted time going to the bank with cash. Not to mention lower bank charges. In addition, working in a cashless environment significantly reduces the risk associated with holding money on-premises. 

In conclusion, the ordering and payment app market is still very new to the majority of the hospitality industry. There’s lots to consider and choices made in haste might need to be reconsidered later. The key is to keep an eye on how things progress, constantly monitor how effectively the apps work and look for opportunities rather than threats. Good luck – we’re rooting for you.


Check list for choosing an ordering and payment app:

  • Functionality: get an app that allows table bookings, ordering and payment as a minimum

  • Costs: choose between a commission based model or subscription – and look out for up-front costs

  • Branding: for a better customer experience, pick an app where you can use your own brand 

  • Existing technology: think about how it will interact with tills, printers and other systems

  • Security: you’ll be entrusting customer data and payments to the app – make sure it’s secure and be wary of free or unknown apps

  • Think about the future: consider how the app can help you build customer loyalty and improve your marketing. Also, might it integrate with your stock control and management systems


By Nick White, head of alcohol at SHS Group, owner of WKD, discusses the app options for the hospitality industry and what to consider as we settle into a new normal.

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