Benefits of Online Ordering Go Beyond Increased Sales

By Lin Grensing-Pophal, Contributing Editor | February 13, 2013

To a large degree consumers have come to expect — and take for granted — the ability to place restaurant orders online. They don’t give the process much thought. Restaurant owners do, however, and they are adopting some new and innovative ways to simplify the lives of their customers while boosting their own ability to track customer activity in ways that enhance their analytics.

Expanding Reach
Jeremy Merrin is CEO of Havana Central in New York (www.havanacentral.com), a Cuban comfort food brand with four locations across the greater New York City metro area. The restaurant has found success both through its unique food offerings and its ease of access for customers who enjoy the convenience of ordering from home: http://havanacentral.com/take-out-delivery/.

A lot of different technology is used to expedite processes and improve the customer experience with an eye toward efficiency. However, stresses Merrin, “we never want to recreate the wheel. We use the services that are out there and that are doing the best job.” When it comes to online ordering, he says, the choice of technology wasn’t just about the ability to order online: the ability to reach the right people was key.

Recognizing the importance of reach, Merrin investigated a number of options, the one he relies on most is Seamless Web (www.seamless.com), which allows for online ordering fulfilled by either delivery or take-out. “The beauty of this is they have a very large network,” he says. Seamless currently reports more than 2 million users from 11,000+ restaurants in 40 metropolitan areas. “The very first day we started with Seamless Web we had something like 100 orders,” recalls Merrin. Despite the commission, anywhere between 10-15% of the order, the cost is worth it, he says. “You can tap into this network that would take you forever to build on your own.” Seamless invests heavily in marketing — everything from subway and train billboards, to social media — to entice consumers into trying their service. As a result, the company claims that 92% of its members have tried a new restaurant on Seamless. Reach in suburban communities is limited, however; Seamless’ current focus is in urban communities where take-out/delivery is big business.

In addition to reach, Merrin appreciates the accessibility and seamlessness of the service for his consumers. “People can go on my website and, if they decide they want to order online, they click a button that’s very clearly delineated on the home page and go into our menu.” The platform is available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, mobile web, and traditional online ordering.

Adding Robust Features
Andrew Borsk is the marketing manager for take-out and delivery at Boston Pizza (www.bostonpizza.com/en). With 350 restaurants in Canada (three that are corporate-owned), the move toward online ordering was no small feat, but there were compelling reasons to do so.

Borsk points to accuracy as an added benefit to online ordering. “When we were looking to expand our take-out four years ago we saw this as an opportunity to eliminate or reduce errors in the ordering process,” he says. “When somebody self-selects their food it is less likely for miscommunication versus talking to a server where things can get missed
or misheard.”

Ultimately, though, the decision to move to online ordering was a customer-focused decision. “We knew we needed to be in the online game because that’s where our guests were going,” says Borsk. Boston Pizza’s CIO began investigating the availability of options through trade shows and other research and ultimately chose ONOSYS (www.onosys.com), which reaches 2.1 million users across 8,500 locations. The solution is heavy on features for its restaurant customers, including the ability to develop loyalty programs and an artificial intelligence algorithm for upselling customers (reporting a 20-25% increase in average ticket amounts).

The Boston Pizza rollout occurred in several stages, says Borsk, with an initial pilot through the three corporate sites, then a bigger pilot group of 30 to 40 stores. Implementation was scheduled over six months as each store was brought online.

“We had our agency design both our corporate site and our online ordering site and then had ONOSYS backfill their processing and functionality into the design that our agency created.”
    
Boston Pizza uses POSitouch (www.positouch.com) to handle the routing of orders throughout the system. POSitouch is basically the gatekeeper between ONOSYS and the internal restaurant system,” says Borsk.

Sales growth has been strong, he says: “we’ve seen double digit growth from the online channel.” But, he adds, while online ordering is important and Boston Pizza has been using it for the last four years, it is not a replacement for phone ordering, which they still offer. In fact, the majority of orders still come in through phone, he says. “What we’d like to see is a migration of guests ordering by phone to ordering online,” he says, not only because of the added efficiency and accuracy, but because of the ability to create profiles for guests. “When placing online orders they create a record in our database that we can use for menu development or delivery area analysis,” he notes.

Powerful Analytics
The analytics provided through online ordering systems provides an added benefit to restaurateurs. “You have to understand what your metrics are,” says Merrin. This is particularly true if using discounts or couponing, he notes. “Some of these things work, and some don’t,” he says. It’s important to track and analyze results to know what does.

Brandon Coleman III is the Chief Marketing Officer for Romano’s Macaroni Grill (www.macaronigrill.com). Two years ago, when Coleman came to Macaroni Grill there was very little digital presence, he says. “We knew that online ordering was a piece we had to have.” The restaurant chose to go with the Aloha system (www.aloharadiant.com) and Snapfinger (www.snapfinger.com),
developed by Kudzu Interactive. Snapfinger currently covers 28,000 restaurant sites and supports takeout, curbside, delivery, and catering orders. Romano’s launched online ordering in September 2012 and, like Borsk, Coleman says he’s seen double-digit sales growth. He notes that he is seeing increased traffic through the website as well as through mobile.

“One of the benefits of Snapfinger is it brings the order directly into the Aloha system and cues it up when there is time and also provides dynamic feedback that allows us to delay orders if there are too many orders coming in, or we can change items if a restaurant runs out of something, we could take it off the list.”
So far, Coleman is happy with the solutions chosen, but feels there are opportunities to work more on the user interface to make the experience more seamless. “I think online ordering is going to continue to grow. We always see that anything that provides convenience and saves time for people really becomes more relevant in their lives.” Like Borsk, he doesn’t see online ordering replacing more traditional means of placing orders, but believes it is a critical add-on.

Merrin agrees. Capturing names and building a robust database is the name of the game, says Merrin, and he uses that database creatively. “Whenever the weather is lousy, we send out this notice ‘weather’s fine when you order online’,” he says. With about 35,000 people on the list, “we get a very nice response,” he says. The list is segmented so stores can select who to email depending on their proximity to the restaurants and those restaurants’ delivery preferences.

Ultimately, says Merrin, it is all about building business and that is most effectively done through a well-maintained database that provides information and the ability to reach out to customers. The technology available today to expedite online ordering and capture actionable information holds benefits for both customers and restaurant owners.


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