how to start an online food business
by Laura-Andreea Voicu

Selling your food online instead of in a brick-and-mortar location can help you cut costs, minimize risks, and boost profits. Read on to find out how to start an online food business without breaking the bank.

Which Food Business Is Most Profitable for Restaurants?

If you’re thinking of breaking into the food and beverage industry, you have several options, from the type of food business (restaurant, food truck, virtual restaurant, etc.), to the type of cuisine.

Here are some of the most profitable types of food businesses you can open:

  • Fast foods
  • Ghost kitchens
  • Pizzerias
  • Pop-up restaurants
  • Food trucks

Read more about each of them and why they’re profitable in our full guide.

5 Online Food Business Ideas You Can Try

If you’ve decided to go for an online food business over a brick-and-mortar location, here are some of the types of foods you can sell online:

  1. Meal kits: When you sell meal kits, you don’t just sell food, you sell an experience. Meal kits became very popular during the pandemic when people couldn’t go out to eat and wanted to cook at home using restaurant-quality ingredients. Now, the convenience of meal kits attracts a large variety of customers, and not many restaurants offer them. Use that as an opportunity to get ahead!
  2. Desserts: Everybody loves dessert, whether it’s cupcakes, pastries, ice cream, cake pops, you name it. You can sell a variety of sweets online and create special boxes and combos for different occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, corporate get-togethers, etc.).
  3. Catering: Whether you are catering for offices and businesses or events such as weddings or bachelorette parties, you have a wide pool of customers who will come back to you for their next event if you win them over with your delicious dishes.
  4. Traditional homemade food: Many people crave homemade food (like grandma used to make) but don’t have time to cook. With so many other restaurants offering pizza, burgers, and other types of fast food, you can set yourself apart by selling homemade food like potpie, meatloaf, stew, and so on. Consider offering big portions such as a full pot of stew to serve the entire family.
  5. Lunch boxes: If you’re thinking of opening an online food business close to office parks, it would be a shame not to cater to the lunch crowd. Not everyone has time to go out for lunch, so many people will probably order delivery. If you can offer them irresistible lunch specials and combo offers, they will make your business their number one pick.

How to Start an Online Food Business in 7 Steps

Learning how to start an online food business shouldn’t give you a headache. Follow these seven simple steps to get started.

Step 1: Decide where you’re going to cook the food

The first item on your starting a food business checklist should be the location. Even if online businesses save you the trouble of finding a location where you serve customers, you still need a space to cook the food.

One option would be your home. If you’re wondering how to start a food business from home, know that you need to abide by specific food laws and regulations that will vary depending on where you live. As a result, you should always check with the local authorities.

For example, operating a food business from home means you’ll have to register with the FDA, get approval, pass kitchen inspections, get zoning permits, and might not be allowed to keep pets.

Another option would be to start a ghost kitchen in a shared commercial space, or even make use of a food truck kitchen. No matter the choice you end up making, you’re going to have to make sure the kitchen is professional and attested.

Step 2: Get all the permits and licenses you need

Do I need a license to sell food online? The answer is a resounding yes. You will need a business license, food license, food handler’s permit, food establishment permit, and other permits and licenses based on your location.

If you plan to cook the food at home, you will also need to abide by your state’s cottage food laws that ensure the food you’re preparing meets local health standards.

To sell food under a name that isn’t yours (like a brand name), you also need to register for a Doing Business As certificate (more affordable) or start a Limited Liability Company (more expensive).

Step 3: Purchase equipment and hire minimal staff

Unless you’re operating from an already furnished and equipped commercial kitchen, you’re going to need to buy the necessary equipment and tools to cook the food.

You’ll also need to hire back-of-house staff such as a chef, sous chef, line cook, dishwasher, and kitchen manager. Depending on how large your operation is, you might need a separate person to accept orders, or you can ask some of your existing staff to do it.

When learning how to start an online food business, you also need to think about your food delivery strategies. Will you be hiring your own delivery crew or using an on-demand delivery fleet? The latter can help you save costs such as hiring drivers and acquiring vehicles.

Step 4: Find a simple way to sell your food online

Now, on to the best part: how to start an online food delivery business now that you have the equipment and staff you need.

The answer is simple: get an in-house online ordering system that enables you to accept unlimited online orders with zero costs, hidden fees, or commissions.

Free online ordering system for your food business Set it up in minutes and start taking orders by tonight

Unlike food delivery apps, an online ordering system allows you to keep all the profits, be in full control of the ordering experience, gather vital customer data, and track relevant analytics.

Follow these simple steps to learn how to set up online ordering for your food business in no more than 10 minutes:

What do you think is going to make online customers want to order from your place? The menu, of course. Since you don’t have a physical location, you have to rely on your online menu to persuade customers to order.

If you’ve already set up your online ordering system following the steps above, you’re almost there. Navigate to your restaurant dashboard -> Setup -> Menu Setup to start crafting your menu by adding categories, subcategories, dishes, choices, add-ons, and more:

how to start a food business with no money

To make your menu more appealing to customers, make sure to add mouth-watering photos to every dish, as well as enticing descriptions that make use of adjectives designed to emphasize flavor and appearance.

Check out the video tutorial below to learn more about setting up your menu:

Step 6: Set up an online food delivery website for your business

Now that your menu is up and running, you need to help customers see it. The best way to do that is on your website, where they can browse the menu and place an order directly from your restaurant.

Considering we’re talking about how to start an online food business, you need to create a website that’s designed to help you sell more food.

How? By being optimized for search engines and easy to find online, and by making it incredibly easy for customers to spot the Order button and place an order.

how to start a food product business

If you don’t have a website yet or don’t have the necessary knowledge or funds to hire a developer, you can generate a sales and SEO-optimized website directly from your GloriaFood dashboard by following these steps.

how to start a small fast food business

Get an optimized website where you can sell your food online Designed to increase sales and improve the customer experience

Step 7: Promote your food business and attract more customers

Finally, once you’ve opened your virtual doors, you need to learn how to promote the food business online and find creative ways to attract new and returning customers. Our online ordering system comes with a few built-in marketing features that can help:

  • Flyer generator that can help you promote your online food business in the neighborhood. Customize it with a first-order discount to motivate people to order.
  • Promotion templates that you can use to add a variety of promos, discounts, and combo offers at the top of your online menu, where they’re impossible to miss.
  • Email marketing software with three built-in campaigns designed to help you increase retention by inviting customers to order again and reminding them about their abandoned carts.

Final Thoughts

In the highly competitive and volatile restaurant industry, opening a brick-and-mortar food business might come with many potential risks. Selling your food exclusively online minimizes a lot of those risks.

Follow the steps above to learn how to start an online food business and lead it to success.

photo of GloriaFood blog writer Laura-Andreea Voicu
Laura-Andreea Voicu

Laura-Andreea Voicu is an experienced content writer with a knack for marketing and SEO. She creates guides and resources designed to help restaurants grow their presence online and boost sales.

She has been featured on the Oracle Food and Beverage Blog and wrote for Search Engine Journal, Clutch, Sender, Venngage, Quickbooks, and many more.

Find me on LinkedIn.