Order & Pay for pubs and bars

Order and pay

Order & Pay for pubs & bars

How could Order & Pay work for pubs and bars?

An order & pay system is a type of digital menu which allows customers to order directly from their table, booth, or bar. 

Below, we’ll explain the case for order & pay systems in pubs and bars – and why StoreKit Order & Pay might be a good choice. You can check out our list of alternative great table ordering apps here. Or, check out epos systems for pubs and bars if you want an overview of the full point of sale. 

The case for keeping Order & Pay in pubs & bars 

Following the UK’s mandatory table order rules, lots of pubs adopted order & pay systems as an alternative to hiring more staff. 

Some of these systems have benefited pubs above and beyond helping manage table orders – they have boosted spend per head, smoothed operations, and helped pubs expand their economic space so that more areas were practical to serve drinks to. 

But other order & pay systems have been poor quality, and have made customer experience worse. As the market consolidates, we expect that the remaining software products will be of a higher average quality and more likely to work against their stated goals. 

So let’s remind ourselves. What’s the purpose of an Order & Pay system? And when does it work to keep it after lockdown?

The purpose of order & pay systems in pubs and bars

Boosting orders in Order & Pay 

We go into depth about whether Order & Pay systems boost customer spending in another article. But to summarise, they do seem to, including according to StoreKit customers. A good order & pay system can boost spending – a bad order & pay can inhibit spending. 

Below are some principles as to how and why.

Low friction is table stakes 

Order and pay

The first and key way to boost orders is by reducing “friction”. That’s UX-speak, which translates as “difficulty” – anything which doesn’t feel easy is something which has friction. Getting up, walking to a bar, and enduring a large bar queue, has very high friction. Flagging down a busy waiter has high friction – not as high as a bar queue, but it’s still a hassle. The principle is simple: the less friction, the more purchases.

Since reducing friction is the point of the exercise, we would argue that there is no point in choosing high friction software. It’s possible to make a marketing argument about “deepening a relationship” which includes an account and an app – but if a system requires that you download an app and make an account, customers simply will not use it. Choose a system which is smooth, intuitive, and familiar – where you’re never more than a few taps from your basket. A QR code menu is the best choice here – customers only need to scan a QR code with their phones to access the menu. 

Experience & identity is important once friction has been handled

“Friction” on its own does not explain how well an Order & Pay system works. A trip to a pub or bar should be an experience, and “reducing friction” is simply to make ordering “not irritating”. That’s vital, but it’s also table stakes. Patrons go to the pub to have an experience, and you need to deliver it to them across every touchpoint – including a digital menu. 

So not only do you need a UX which is easy, intuitive, familiar, and which respects design principles around fast frictionless ordering; but also a UX which is expressive of your pub or bar and what you’re about – just as the interior of your pub does. Look out for the right level of customisation and tools like images, descriptions and tags which express what you’re about to order without getting in their way. 

Catching Desire 

Fleeting and time-bound desire is another great case for order & pay systems

Time-bound desires often happen during meals – “I would love a drink with my meal, but I know by the time I queue at the bar for one, my meal will have gone cold.” / “I want a side with this now, but by the time I’ve caught the attention of the waiter I will have finished my main” / “damn it, I forgot to ask for mayonnaise” – standing up is sometimes the easiest way to resolve this, but with table service, it feels like a defeat. 

These kinds of calculations can ruin a meal. With a quick way to order, customers can leave happier and have their mayonnaise brought over to them when they need it, without having to get up. There’s not much distinction between systems (although again – high friction is a no-go) but this is another argument in favour of order & pay.

Spend more time drinking

Order and pay

Time spent queueing is time not spent drinking and enjoying yourself – it’s less enjoyable for your patrons and less profitable for you. So, not only does a good order & pay system mean there’s not queueing “dead time” but there’s likely to be no wait between drinks – customers begin to order their next drink while their first drink is still in front of them, in order to eliminate all waiting. By maximising the proportion of the time spent drinking and chatting, you’re enhancing their experience and their spend.


There’s a concept in the broader space of menu engineering around multi-part meals. Instead of buying one dish, you buy a main, side, and a drink – it’s a great way of breaking up a £30.00 order block into digestible chunks, so that someone doesn’t feel as though they’re overpaying. In general, payment is a journey “pain point” because it involves parting with their cash.

A good waiter can upsell, “oh, I think the fries go great with that” – but repeating this messaging becomes quite stilted and requires a lot of skill to do for every order. In contrast, a table ordering app expressing upsell suggestions after every course as a matter of form – “add fries for £2.99” – is just part of the software, and can feel extremely natural.

We’d recommend thinking about ways to customise your food menu, or add sides to items. This is a big way it boosts orders and gets your patrons getting as much as they can out of this.

Menu Engineering

Online journeys allow us to measure behaviour and take action. “Menu Engineering” is the idea of, well, engineering your menu to encourage customers to spend. It would be amazing to combine the two, and this is part of the next generation of order & pay software

This is being written in November 2020. At StoreKit, we do some menu engineering, but we’re hoping the sophistication of the engineering can increase significantly every year. 

For now, we’re manually adjusting our menu designs to optimise for better conversions as data comes in. In the very near term, we’ll launch features like highlighted items in order to give our customers the levers to help push item X or Y through the design of the menu, beyond promotions or discounts. 

In the middle and longer term, we’ll be able to use our underlying understanding of how menus encourage item X or Y in order to boost sales of this or that item with greater refinement. Then, we could be able to make this dynamic – i.e. actively responsive to offers and promotions, and even imported data like, for example, what’s going to go off. 

Expanding spaces

Order and pay

Order & Pay systems work great for venues of any size – but we see disproportionate advantages for larger and more sprawling venues, because not every part of the venue can have a waiter there. This makes new venues practical in a much wider variety of spaces – terrace areas, outside sections, and rooms where it’s too far to walk to the bar and not practical to keep a waiting eye. 

This is the transformation of dead space into economic space – a space where a customer can order a drink without having to go inside, or to queue, or spend even a second looking around to find a waiter. With a perfect menu which responds to the pub’s needs, easy upsells, and a frictionless design, an order & pay system done well can signal a big boost in spending.

Smoothing operations for pubs and bars

Is table service ever practical for pubs and bars? 

It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on why venues don’t serve drinks to tables. 

For some bars, it’s to do with space – they can serve 100 standing or 20 sitting, and they don’t serve food, so go figure. Second, the amount that someone buys per order – in the £12.00 region, for two drinks for two people – isn’t really economical to hire the waiting capacity because each margin is smaller than with a £70.00 meal. Third, at this price, the path to success involves a high throughput of order taking, and taking table orders is slow.

Let’s go through those in order.

Dark bars and no space 

If you’re a “no table order” organisation because you don’t have any tables, order & pay solutions can’t create additional space. There are some narrower applications, though, which could make StoreKit Order & Pay effective. 

If you have a couple of tables or VIP booths, those tables are probably “spoiled” by bar journeys. In some instances, a customer might have to sacrifice the table to visit the bar, leading customer behaviour of sitting around it defensively. They might happily pay a premium for the table service (and by extension, the table) but ironically end up spending less in order to defensively retain the table. 

Order and pay

An order & pay system could work here. With a VIP system, you can put higher prices on your table menu and bake a VIP option into the proposition with minimal organisational hassle and no need to check names against lists. StoreKit Order & Pay does have a “dark mode”, which is more appropriate for nighttime venues.

The price is too low 

The more common reason for pubs and bars which have tables is that it’s not practical with the price of the goods you’re selling and the margin you’re making. Spending additional money on table service through extra labour costs has no return on investment.

But the calculations change with an order & pay system versus a waiter taking orders. In traditional table ordering, let’s say that a waiter spends somewhere around a quarter of their time taking orders, a quarter of the time carrying plates, a quarter sorting out payments, and a final quarter being hospitable. With those numbers, we can immediately eliminate sorting payments and taking orders – half the time. Half the waiters can serve twice the number of patrons, and the margin on the goods that it’s practical for reduces. 

If you’re a pub with a spoon table number system and food, you’re likely to have people taking things over to patrons anyway. Set against entering orders into a POS from behind the bar and taking payments, an order & pay system could be a labour saving – so, suitable for cheap goods.

The throughput is too fast   

The flipside of “the price is too low” is that the throughput is too fast for table ordering to work. A low margin per order means you have to get through a lot of orders; and in turn, you need to be able to turn around orders speedily. An order & pay system increases throughput by eliminating time spent taking orders. McDonald’s – perhaps the most high-profile example of a digital ordering system in a high-throughput environment – has mastered this, and their process is as fast as it could be. 

Choosing an Order & Pay system

It really is all about the UX 

Customers will generally take the path of least resistance towards buying a drink. So the bad systems referred to earlier have a simple damage limitation clause – if they are difficult to use, people will not use them. They will default to going to the bar.

That rules out apps. When “apps” were pioneered by Apple, every company wanted to get one. There’s a concept in marketing whereby you “deepen the relationship” with customers – because it makes them more likely to keep coming back. In that context, the idea of your brand installed on someone’s phone is a tempting one.

The problem was this; people don’t want your brand on their phone, and won’t download it. Forcing people to download your app is a hostile invasion of their phone space. It’s also much harder than going to a bar – and people will take the path of least resistance to their drink.

Choose one which can integrate

At StoreKit, we believe in an integrated tech stack in a pub or restaurant. That’s something which should incorporate EPOS, Delivery, Accounting, Inventory, Payments, and all other software verticals which are right for you. This is the “hub” and “spoke” model of software. In delivery, a low number of integrations mean that delivery restaurants sometimes hire someone full time to reenter all the delivery orders into their point-of-sale.

Fortunately, StoreKit Order & Pay includes an integration module which can get you started with 40+ EPOS systems.