Restaurant leaders discuss 3 digital categories turning industry on its head

| by S.A. Whitehead
Restaurant leaders discuss 3 digital categories turning industry on its head

Digital signage, online ordering and loyalty apps each are transforming the restaurant business in unique ways that demand equally unique approaches, according to an industry expert at NPD Group and the pair of limited service brands, Fazoli's and La Madeleine. The three hashed out the details of this ever-evolving topic recently the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Louisville. 

The hour-long panel, moderated by LevelUp Agency Services Director Allyson Klineman, included insights and advice from NPD Group Foodservice Practice Vice President Warren Solochek, along with Fazoli's Vice President  of Marketing Jodie Conrad and La Madeleine Senior Director of Marketing Jacqueline O'Reilly. 

Shown from left to right are LevelUp Agency Services Director Allyson Klineman, Fazoli’s Vice President of Marketing Jodie Conrad, La Madeleine Senior Director of Marketing Jacqueline O'Reilly and NPD Group Foodservice Practice Vice President Warren Solochek. Photo by Willie Lawless.

The panelists agreed that digital tools like menu boards and loyalty programs can help turn one-time visitors into loyal customers. But going a step further, Solochek pointed out that restaurants can also benefit from using "differential targeting" based on customer data. 

For example, brands can push out coupons for additional chicken items to customers who order a chicken sandwiches online. It's an approach that reinforces the positive and helps drive customers back to the restaurant through value offerings. 

Loyalty apps were also applauded as proven ways to build customer satisfaction and feedback. For example, Conrad pointed out that in the past restaurants would have had to mail coupons to customers who might have experienced issues with their orders. Now, however, the customer cannot only instantly report issues online or through the loyalty app, restaurant operators can rapidly respond to save that customer's loyalty before they've had time to "stew" about it very long. 

Seize the daypart

When restaurant operators use static menu boards they typically find it tough to take advantage of the business opportunities in different times of the day. This is a huge plus for those using  digital menu boards because they can be easily updated as the day and meals of the day progress from breakfast to dinner and late-night snacks. 

Other tools help brands grow traffic during certain dayparts. For example, at La Maddeleine, O'Reilly said leadership learned from app check-ins that 66 percent of users tended to visit during two different dayparts. With this information, the brand was able to push out messages encouraging customers to visit at other dayparts to enhance business. 

Restaurant brands can also benefit from using  trial campaigns to drive traffic at certain times of day or at events like store openings. For example, Solochek said when Chick-fil-A broke into the Boston markets, it offered free sandwiches to everyone who downloaded the brand's app. 

Changing the daily operations

Online and mobile ordering can drastically change the daily operations of a restaurant. La Madeleine, for example, uses the same point-of-sale system for its bakery and restaurant. Online ordering, however, has boosted sales significantly, so lines for the bakery and the restaurant could get congested.

To address this concern, O'Reilly said the restaurant built a pickup area so customers that ordered online wouldn't have to wait in the same line with dine-in customers.

Conrad said that Fazoli's also had to create a carryout section and provide signage to inform customers of its location.

Finally, digital tools largely changed the way labor moves around the restaurant. Self-ordering kiosks, for example, can remove some of the demand for front-end employees at the cash register. However, these employees will then need to be at the backend to handle the larger amount of orders.

"IT enables restaurants to shift labor around from one of restaurant operation to another," Solochek said.

Ultimately, digital doesn't just upgrade the restaurant's ordering process, it transforms the entire operation.

Feature photo: iStock

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Delivery, Digital Signage, Menu Boards, Mobile Payments, Online / Mobile / Social, Online Ordering, Systems / Technology, Trends / Statistics

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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