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When the Golden Gate Bridge added technology-enabled toll transactions in March 2013, it was certainly an end to an era of toll takers, tollbooth and drivers' expectations. Yet, the move from full-serve to self-serve ushered in new opportunities. For one, the speed limit was increased to 45 MPH, lessening congestion, and, perhaps most importantly, the District will save $16 million over the next eight years.

Now you might be asking: what does that have to do with restaurants? A lot. The Golden Gate transition represents a paradigm shift that is worth watching for fast casuals and QSRs, as mobile ordering stands to change restaurant service models.

What many operators don't know is that a growing number of customers are placing mobile orders from within the four walls of the restaurant — even when dining in. Customers are increasingly using these mobile apps or online ordering platforms beyond takeout and delivery, as they recognize that the apps allow them to skip long lines of fellow customers, save time by automatically entering in a favorite order, and eliminate the risk of a cashier who mishears or mis-enters their order.

That's not to say the customer doesn't appreciate the environment or experience of dining in the restaurant — a good number of these mobile ordering customers grab their order and sit down to eat instead of walking out the door with a takeout bag. Additionally, group ordering allows whole groups of diners to order ahead, bypass the line, and eat together at the restaurant. My office does this just about every other Friday, guaranteeing that we can all pickup our food and eat together at 1 p.m., no matter how busy the store gets.

The sum is this: In-store ordering via mobile device is a paradigm shift with the capacity to revolutionize the old fast and quick casual service model. Consider these benefits to owners and operators:

1. No More Front-of-House Bottleneck

Many restaurant groups that we've worked with over the years have commented that they can manage far more capacity in the back of house (cooks) than their front of house (cashiers) can ever take in. They've told us that their goal is to multiply the number of order points, without needing to invest in new point-of-sale terminals or hire additional cashiers to manage the peak times. To these restaurants groups, self-service ordering has become an obvious choice. With customers carrying around supercomputers in their pockets (aka smartphones) there is no need to invest in kiosks or other new hardware. A mobile app converts every customer's smartphone into a personal point-of-sale. As an example, with mobile ordering, every Five Guys location now has at least 750,000 point-of-sale kiosks, carried by the customers walking in the door.

2. Flexibility to Re-deploy Human Capital

Restaurant owners may worry about the effect on their employees. Surely, the Golden Gate District had to lay off its 28 toll takers. But this doesn't have to be a worry. With order taking and payment automated, restaurants can re-deploy their human capital to where it really counts — preparing and presenting the food. That moment of handing a hungry customer his food is the happiest moment in the customer journey. Restaurant employees now have more time to converse with customers, bringing them beverage refills, napkins, silverware, or recommending new side items and desserts — all activities proven to increase the customer experience, increase return visits and, potentially, increase check size.

3. New Insights to Personalize the Customer Experience

Enabling self-service ordering with native mobile apps that track every order back to the same customer account provides restaurants with a new ability to make educated menu recommendations based on a customer's order history, providing a more personalized customer experience that results in larger average order sizes and greater visit frequency.

As demonstrated by the Golden Gate Bridge, and past adoption of self-service technologies like ATMs and Fandango, magical, VIP-like experiences drive both customer adoption and operating efficiencies. Those restaurant brands that embrace digital ordering and strive for 100 percent adoption from their customers will reap the rewards of our digital age.

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Noah Glass
Noah Glass is the Founder & CEO of online and mobile ordering pioneer Olo. Since 2005, Olo has raised $13.75M from PayPal and leading venture capital firms. Olo has been featured on “Good Morning America,” The Wall Street Journal, and ABC World News.
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