nce upon a time all a pizzeria needed was a cash register, oven and phone to do business. Yet pizzeria operators are no longer satisfied with just making sure their business is up and running; they want to make sure it is running efficiently. As operators turn to new technologies such as handheld order takers and customer databases, often built into their point-of-sale (POS) systems to improve operational efficiency and marketing power, the days of a waitress scribbling an order on a piece of paper and bringing it back to the kitchen will soon be long gone.
Building customer loyalty
Pizza restaurants are increasingly using their POS systems for more than just making the order-taking process easier on the employee and the guest. Pizza Ranch is a growing chain with 130 dine-in/carryout/delivery restaurants, based in Hull, Iowa. Its business strategy is to build franchises in small towns, and focus on growing the business by serving their communities.
One of the key elements its POS has to deliver is a rich customer database and marketing tools. Pizza Ranch views community involvement and community-based marketing as essential. Extensive database marketing, including direct mail and loyalty programs using the customer information in its POS, is its recipe for success.
Pizza Ranch uses Speedline Solutions' (speedlinesolutions.com) POS system. The pizza chain upgraded to Speedline POS because it allows them to acquire and analyze data in a customer database, which includes common information such as name, address and phone number. But beyond that, employees can see a guest's last order, amount of last order, and what type of product the guest chose, whether it was pizza, chicken, or something else.
"The most important asset that our POS database is providing us with is that it lets us separate facts from assumptions," says Jon Moss, brand director at Pizza Ranch. "It helps us assess whether a particular new product warrants being added to the menu and lets us measure customer retention and acquisition."
Pizza Ranch is also taking its usage of its database one step further to do targeted mailings to market to different guest segments. The direct mail will focus on driving customers to order more food when dining, or encourage them to dine more often."Now we're utilizing the database to literally map out where our customers are coming from, establish target zones for our marketing efforts and see how much of our sales come in two miles," adds Moss.
The benefit behind having a feature-rich customer database is that it allows Pizza Ranch to tailor its message to existing, proven customers that will more than likely visit the pizza chain again, according to Moss. "It's more efficient marketing; it allows us to know who our customers are."
The big differentiator of Pizza Ranch's customer database compared to other pizza chains with a database is the fact that they use it at all, says Moss. A lot of pizza chains have the information available to them; they just aren't taking advantage of it. "We're really striving to utilize that information."
Since using Menusoft's Digital Dining handheld POS (digitaldining.com), Joe's Italian Restaurant in Moreno Valley, California, has also been able to greatly improve order accuracy and reduce server error. The handhelds are primarily used by Joe's wait staff, and according to General Manager John Stavros, they provide convenience and increased speed. "There's not a lot of scribbling and forgetting orders," he says. "They allow the servers to be able to handle more tables, and the order is in the kitchen before the server even walks back."
The handhelds not only make life a little easier for the server, but also make the customer feel more at ease that their order is being taken properly because it's being done right in front of them on a computer, which minimizes the chance of making a mistake.
"When the customers recognize what the server is doing, that they are using handhelds, the customer realizes that order is being in instantaneously and that there will be very little server error," adds Stavros.
As most pizza chains know, if orders aren't taken accurately, they are sure to lose customers fast. Take a cue from Capital Pizza Huts, a Pizza Hut franchisee with over 93 locations throughout New Jersey, Maine, Tennessee, Virginia, New Hampshire, Vermont and North Carolina. Capital Pizza Huts is another Speedline customer and according to David Henderson, vice president of technology for Capital Pizza Huts, the franchise's old system was Unix-based and it had outlived its useful life.
"The cost of maintaining it was becoming prohibitive vs. what we could spend to upgrade," explains Henderson. With Speedline, Capital Pizza Huts upgraded to a more modern POS system that is windows-based and allowed them to accomplish much more. "Cost was probably the driving factor, but payback was pretty quick," Henderson adds.
The new POS system allows the Pizza Hut franchisee to be better prepared to handle what their customers will order, and employees are able to take long and complex orders while maintaining accuracy. "Pizza customers are a unique bunch," says Henderson. "They like their food a particular way."
With the ability of the system to handle complex orders, while also being integrated with the kitchen management system, allows for speedier order handling and items getting through the kitchen faster. "The flexibility we've gained with Speedline lets our order takers be much more specific."
While these pizza chains have made vast improvements in the past few months to their POS to include new and distinct features, they aren't satisfied just yet. Each is still looking into the future to come up with new and better ways to serve customers, run the restaurant more efficiently, and keep employees happy.
At the top of the priority list for Henderson of Capital Pizza Huts is taking advantage of the point of sale's online ordering option.
Working on upgrading the corporate intranet "to give better communication between the home office and the field," is another project that the Pizza Hut franchisee is considering embarking on. "Those are two next big things on the list," says Henderson.
While Moss of Pizza Ranch has already made some serious headway in terms of marketing to its customers, he is still interested in taking Pizza Ranch's marketing program a step further and implementing a loyalty marketing program that would be tied in real-time through Pizza Ranch's POS system.
"The main thing we're not getting right now is dine-in customer information," explains Moss. "We're only capturing 40 percent of our sales information. There's a big chunk of customer data that we're not capturing currently."