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Best practices for Self-serve ordering with Square Online

Note: Enable Self-serve ordering by upgrading your Square Online site.

With self-serve ordering, you can set up QR codes that are uniquely mapped to your ordering stations (e.g. tables, event seats, parking spaces, hotel rooms, etc.) to power contactless dine-in ordering and payment. Guests simply scan QR codes from their phones to pull up your Square Online ordering page where they can browse your menu items, place orders and pay. This powerful feature is available on all Square Online plans (including the free plan).

Self-serve ordering can be used at all different types of businesses, including table service restaurants, quick-service restaurants, bars and breweries, food trucks, hotels, stadiums and event spaces, and more. On average, businesses see a 35% increase in sales within the first 30 days after implementing self-serve ordering due to improved safety, efficiency and order accuracy.

In this article, we’ll walk you through best practices for:

  • Optimising your online ordering page for QR code orders,

  • Customising, printing and posting your QR code signage,

  • Training your staff and

  • Growing your sales using self-serve ordering.

Create a successful experience with your online menu

Your online ordering page is the menu customers will access on their phones when they scan a QR code. While self-serve ordering saves you the time and cost of printing physical menus, it’s important that your online ordering page is just as appealing. Here are some tips on creating a Square Online ordering page your customers will love.

Focus on visual appeal

With online ordering, it’s important to bring your virtual menu to life and tempt customers with eye-catching food photography. Include high-quality images of each menu item and ensure your dishes closely resemble them when they’re delivered to your customers.

To add images of your menu items on your website:

  1. In your Square Online Overview page, go Items > Site Items.
  2. Select an item from your list or add a new item by selecting Create new item.
  3. Under Media, add images to your item.
  4. Complete all other edits to your item and select Save when finished.

Learn more about product images in Square Online.

Write clear and compelling descriptions

While you may have staff on hand to provide descriptions and recommendations, it’s important to include this information on your online ordering page to help customers decide what to order. List key ingredients alongside food restrictions and allergy warnings so that customers feel confident about placing their orders.

Changes to item descriptions sync between Square Online and your Square Item Library with item sync. You can disable item description sync in order to use rich text styling (e.g. bold, italics and bulleted or numbered lists) in the item description editor to make your descriptions even clearer and easier to read online.

To disable description sync between Square Online and your Square Item Library:

  1. In your Square Online Overview page, go to Items > Item Sync or Shared Settings > Item Sync.
  2. Under ‘Sync settings’, toggle off Sync product descriptions.

Learn more about selling food and drinks in Square Online.

Organise your menu with food categories

Make it easy for your customers to find what they’re looking for with categories. For example, you can divide your menu into starters, mains, desserts, sides and drinks. You can also consider adding extra categories for food types such as meat, fish and vegetarian to signal you can accommodate a broad range of customers.

To create a site category:

  1. In your Square Online Overview page, go to Items > Site Categories.
  2. Select Add Category.

Learn more about adding items and categories to Square Online.

To set up menus based on certain days and times, try using time-based categories. Learn more about time-based categories in Square Online.

Create and highlight straightforward instructions for self-serve ordering

When you set up self-serve ordering, you’ll have the chance to customise the message that appears at the top of your online ordering page. This is a good place to clearly let customers know that they can not only view the menu from their phones, but they can also place their order and pay. If you have special safety measures you’d like to share, you can also add them here. Learn more about adding text to your Square Online site.

Additionally, you can customise the message that shows up after a customer has placed a self-serve order. This is a good place to let them know how they’ll receive their order. For example,

“We’ll deliver your order to you.”


“We’ll call out your name when your order is ready at the counter.”

are short and clear messages that tell customers exactly what to expect.

Enable open tabs

You can enable open tabs at any time from the Self-Serve Ordering page in the settings for each location. With open tabs, your customers may see even more benefits including:

  • Enhanced guest experience: Customers can continue ordering on the same tab without inputting their payment info multiple times. They’ll only see one charge on their statements.
  • Increase average ticket sizes: Guests are more likely to keep ordering when it’s this easy to do. Some sellers saw up to a 42% increase in average ticket size with this feature.
  • Preserve your margins: When customers keep ordering on the same tab instead of making separate transactions, you’ll only pay the standard transaction fee one time.
  • Increase tip sizes: With open tabs, guests close out and tip at the end of the transaction rather than before the order has been fulfilled, increasing their likelihood to tip higher.
  • Reduce unpaid walkouts: If a customer leaves without paying, the pre-authorized card will be automatically charged 2 hours after the start of the order.

Learn more about self-serve ordering open tabs with Square Online.

Design and post your QR code ordering cards

Before your guests can begin placing self-serve orders, you’ll need to create signage to display your QR code along with some brief instructions. You can create multiple ordering cards to place at each ordering station, or just a few larger signs to place on your storefront or anywhere else customers would line up to order. Here are some tips to make designing, printing and posting your QR codes as easy as possible.

Design your own QR code ordering cards

When you set up self-serve ordering in Square Online, an ordering card is automatically generated for each of your ordering stations that you can download and print.

If you want to add a bit more flair, you can use a design tool to customise how they look. Here’s how it works:

  1. After setting up self-serve ordering, export your QR codes. Each unique code is mapped to an ordering station for easy order identification.
  2. Choose a design tool to use and sign up for an account if necessary (e.g. Canva).
  3. Update your ordering cards with your logo, colours and custom messaging.
  4. Download your designs, print them and place them at your ordering stations for customers to use.

Work with a designer

If you have a designer you prefer to work with, here are the elements we recommend including in your ordering cards:

  • Your logo: Help your guests identify your ordering cards with your unique branding.
  • A headline: Introduce your guests to how QR code ordering works. For example, try using “Order and pay from your phone. No app required.”
  • The unique QR code: Use your unique QR code generated from Square Online.
  • Additional instructions: Let customers know how to order and receive their order. For example, try using “Scan the QR code with your phone camera. Order and pay directly from your phone, and we’ll deliver your order to you.”

If you don’t have a designer to work with, get matched with one of Square’s professional design partners at 99designs.

Print and post your ordering cards

Once you have your ordering cards designed with unique QR codes, you can print them at home or with your local printing service, often provided by many office supply stores and shipping companies.

Printing ordering cards on durable cardstock and laminating them adds protection against water and tearing. This can also make them easy to clean and re-use. You can then affix them to your ordering stations using tape, or display them using table number holders.

Set up your QR codes to fit your workflow

QR code ordering has helped hundreds of restaurants, bars, breweries, cafes, food trucks, event spaces and other businesses increase sales due to its improved safety, efficiency and guest experience. You can use QR code ordering for various workflows, whether you run food and drinks to tables, or have customers place and pick up orders at a counter or window. Here are some examples of how to weave self-serve ordering into your business workflow.

Know where to send staff with orders

Post an ordering card at each table (or event seat, parking space, hotel room, etc.) with a QR code that is uniquely mapped to that ordering station. When the order information reaches your Square POS, kitchen printer or kitchen display system, it’ll be clear which ordering station the order came from so staff can deliver it promptly to that station.

Let customers know their order is ready

Alternatively, you can allow guests to place orders from the unique QR code at their ordering station, and use the messaging that shows up after they place their order to let them know where to pick it up. Both the name and station number will show up with the order so you can call them out.

For further clarity, enable text message alerts for your customers to receive updates about their orders. Self-serve ordering provides two text message alerts: Order received and Order ready for pickup.

Order received automatically sends a text when you receive an order. ‘We’ve received your order from Table 1. View your order at:’

Order ready for pickup sends a text after an order is marked ‘Ready’ from the Order Manager on your Square Point-of-Sale, online Dashboard, or KDS expeditor station. ‘Your order is ready for pickup.’

To enable Text message alerts:

  1. From the Self-Serve Ordering page, select Edit.
  2. Under Text message alerts, select Edit.
  3. Toggle on which alerts you would like to enable: Order received and Order ready for pickup.
  4. Select Save.

Make your waiting lines efficient

You can also place a single QR code anywhere your guests would typically line up to place orders from a staff member. While in line, they can scan the QR code to order for themselves instead.

If you don’t need station-mapped QR codes and would rather have a QR code point to your pickup or local delivery ordering page, you can use a single QR code instead of self-serve ordering QR codes.

Square generates a QR code for every Square Online site. To export it:

  1. In your Square Online Overview page, go to Website > Site Preferences.
  2. Under Site QR Code, select Manage QR Code.
  3. Choose to either Export QR Code or Print ordering card.

This code can be placed on signage or marketing materials to point customers to your site for their orders.

Train your staff

Getting your staff up-to-speed on Self-serve ordering is the next step to making sure both employees and guests have a remarkable experience. Here are some important tips for training employees on this service model.

Build confidence with self-serve ordering among staff

Driving employee understanding around this ordering experience is critical. If your staff are passionate and confident about self-serve ordering, your guests will be excited to give it a try.

Self-serve ordering eliminates transactional elements of the job (e.g. placing orders, taking payments, etc.) so your staff can focus on having more meaningful interactions like welcoming new customers, providing them recommendations, answering their questions, running their orders and connecting for conversations. With the transactional steps automated, your staff may see benefits including:

  • Fewer employees needed to cover a service area: By reducing the number of staff members needed to support a section, staff members have the potential to generate more revenue in tips each shift.
  • Increased table turns: You may see more guests each shift because they’re able to submit orders as soon as they sit down and close bills as soon as they’ve finished their meal.
  • Higher ticket sizes: By allowing guests to order on their own, you may see an increased number of items ordered. This provides an opportunity for staff to make recommendations that spark guests’ interest and generate a larger tip value.

Because this operational model is newer in the industry, your staff will need to take ownership of this experience and become the bridge between new technology and the familiar comforts of dining out. Introducing these benefits to your staff, and ensuring they’re trained and confident in presenting this option to your guests, is a key element of success with self-serve ordering.

Have staff introduce self-serve ordering to guests

Self-serve ordering is most successful when staff position it to guests as the preferred way to order. If it’s positioned as optional, guests may feel like they’re receiving conflicting messages about what their dining experience should be. Check out the following script on how to position self-serve ordering to your guests.

“For your safety and convenience, here at [Your Business Name], we’ve launched contactless mobile ordering. Instead of reading a physical menu, you’re able to quickly access the menu on your phone, place your order and pay – all without leaving the table or flagging down a waiter. Here’s how:

“1. Open the camera app on your phone and scan the unique QR code at your table.
“2. Select the link that appears on your screen.
“3. Choose the items you want and enter your payment information to complete your order.

“Please let me know if you have any questions along the way. I’ll be happy to help!”

In situations where a customer feels more comfortable with a physical menu, you may always hand them one upon their request (but consider this being the exception and not the rule).

Incentivise return customers

Beyond improving your business’ safety, efficiency and overall dine-in experience, self-serve ordering also means that you'll gather customer information like names, emails and phone numbers on every purchase. With this information, you can maintain relationships with guests who are opted in to receive marketing. Here are the top five tips for using self-serve ordering to help drive even more sales – both in-person and online.

Send an email campaign

Send customers an email campaign with Square Marketing to encourage them to come back and dine in again, or to order from you for pickup or local delivery. Check out getting started with Square Marketing for more information, or go to your Square Marketing Overview page to launch a promotional email and drive more self-serve orders.

Create a coupon

Within your email or other channels, a coupon is a great way to incentivise dine-in, pickup or local delivery orders. Learn more about creating discounts and coupons for Square Online items.

Post on social media

Social media feeds are a great place to tell your followers you offer QR code ordering. Show customers how it works by posting images or videos of your setup.

Add QR code ordering to your review site profiles

Customers read reviews to learn about your business. Use platforms like Google Business Profile, Yelp, Foursquare, Tripadvisor and others to promote your QR code ordering solution.

Launch a loyalty program

Sellers who use Square Loyalty may see an increase in customer visit frequency. When you launch a loyalty program, customers will be able to enrol and start earning points when they dine in.

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