Online Ordering Goes From Great Expectations to Exceeding Them

By Lin Grensing-Pophal, Contributing Editor | February 12, 2014

Offering online ordering has become vital for restaurants to remain competitive and relevant, especially as the use of mobile has skyrocketed. Consumers expect to be able to access information and place orders from literally anywhere and restaurants need to provide this service to remain viable.

Options for doing so have run the gamut from developing proprietary sites to offering online ordering through third-party portals. There are downfalls to both. Portal sites, because they are used by other restaurants, expose customers to competitors and may result in lost business. These sites also charge a premium for the service — as much as 10 to 15 percent of the order. Proprietary sites provide more control, but come with the cost and complexity of managing technology and staying up-to-date with rapidly changing technological advances and consumer demands.

James Lux is VP of technology for Boloco (www.boloco.com), a family of globally-inspired burrito restaurants with 22 locations throughout the East Coast. Boloco has had online ordering for years and is an “all cloud-based organization,” says Lux. “We don’t buy software; we just use services.” Boloco’s online ordering is powered by OLO (www.olo.com). That’s a growing trend with restaurants and other organizations recognizing the value of not having to inventory, maintain and upgrade traditional software solutions. Cloud-based services allow secure, easy access from multiple locations with upgrades to functionality occurring seamlessly.

Greater demands placed on greater functionality
The ability to integrate online ordering to the POS has become a “must-have,” says Jon Olinto, co-founder of b.good (www.order.bgood.com), a Boston-based burger chain that recently rolled out online ordering. His chain went live with its OLO system in October 2013. For Olinto, achieving seamless integration with his existing POS was a must. “So far, so good,” he says.

OLO’s “Skip the Line” e-commerce platform allows customers to order and pay for their food from their mobile devices. When they arrive at the restaurant they just need to pick up the food (or have it brought out to their car) and go. Because the system is integrated it can “remember” information about customers and even recommend add-ons based on prior orders.

 Lux agrees about the importance of POS integration. Not only do orders get tied to the store, but the menu is taken directly from the POS. “It’s really an extension of the POS rather than having to manage something separately,” Lux says. “When you add a menu item or change a price, it just shows up online and you don’t have to worry about it being correct.” In fact, Lux is migrating from his current vendor to a new solution that offers the POS integration that he feels is critical. Cost was also a driver, he admits. “There are a lot of different pricing models out there but we prefer a flat fee per store,” Lux reveals.

Finding the right solution to meet both restaurant and ever-changing consumer needs is a critical consideration.

Customer perspective critical to success
Users rule when it comes to online ordering. “Take your existing system and you want to make sure that you’re looking at it through that customer lens and not through technology, or store operations or marketing,” Lux stresses. Of course, user requirements can vary significantly meaning that solutions must be flexible enough to handle varying needs. The bigger the operation and the more customers, the more important flexibility can be to an establishment.
Godfather’s Pizza (www.godfathers.com) uses a third-party integration with QuikOrder (www.quickorder.com). The online ordering site integrates with SpeedLine POS (www.speedlinesolutions.com) via SpeedLine’s OrderLink Gateway API.  Curtis Stalnaker is director of information technology with Godfather’s Pizza, in Omaha, Neb. “The types of people that may end up ordering online from us can range anywhere from teenagers to grandparents,” Stalnaker explains.

Stalnaker stresses the importance of planning carefully around customer needs as well as operational impacts. In fact, perhaps counterintuitively, he notes that online ordering can actually “hinder or exacerbate operational inefficiencies,” because it makes them more transparent. “The customer has a clear indication of what they ordered,” Stalnaker says, so there’s no claiming it was the customer’s error. “You just didn’t make it the way they asked for it.” Or, if the order isn’t delivered on time, it’s very clear that it wasn’t delivered on time — and that may mean both too early as well as too late.

 “You’re definitely setting extremely clear lines in the sand for the customer and when you don’t meet those expectations, it can very clearly identify your mistakes,” Stalnaker states. Still, he says, the benefits outweigh these potential drawbacks, with one big benefit being the tracking and reporting capabilities that these systems can offer.
    
Despite the focus on technology and what it can do, restaurant operators need to recognize that simply having a system in place is not enough. Customers must be made aware of the online ordering option, how it works and why they should use it.

Beyond technology: Encouraging use
At b.good, Olinto reveals that a number of communication efforts have helped to promote the online ordering option, including the homepage of their website and social media. In addition, the restaurant sent out a notification to its database of customers. “We believe that it’s all about them getting that first trial,” he says. “Usage has definitely been trending up.”

With usage comes learning, sometimes in unexpected ways. Lux says that two things that surprised him were the importance of future ordering — the ability to place an order today for some time in the future; and group ordering, which allows customers in office settings, for instance, to place an order for multiple people. “We didn’t expect people to be thinking about lunch on Friday, on Monday, but they do,” he says.

Lux notes that multiple ordering allows for an order to be initiated by one person and then, via email, sent to others who can place their individual orders. All orders are aggregated and submitted under one order. “We didn’t expect it to get a lot of use, but it does,” he says.

The POS is central, says Olinto and he predicts that the POS landscape, in general, is due to transform in the next five years. For instance, he says, “we have an app now that we use for our loyalty system that also flows through the POS.” A lot of brands — like Starbuck’s— already have this, he notes, but smaller shops are now able to take advantage of this technology very cost-effectively and it’s leveling the playing field.

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