Teaching in-store and digital ordering to play nice

July 28, 2014 | by Noah Glass
Teaching in-store and digital ordering to play nice

Back in February, Papa John’s President and COO Tony Thompson proudly announced, "We are well on our way to becoming the first national pizza chain to achieve a domestic systemwide digital sales mix of 50 percent.” He went on to note that this was a “major industry milestone.”

In many ways, of course, the digital majority is already here. Smartphone users represent 70 percent of mobile phone users in the U.S. A whopping 60 percent of customers make purchase decisions about restaurants on their mobile device, and 50 percent of consumers prefer a self-service experience to a full-service experience.

The meaning behind all these stats is this: The majority of customers are ready for mobile ordering. Is your restaurant ready to serve them?

Consider your current operations. Could your restaurant chain handle one out of every two orders coming from the Internet – not from a customer standing in the store or ordering over the phone? Could you process digital orders and in-store orders simultaneously to provide a best-in-class customer experience to all your customers? The key to unlocking this growing digital majority is to put controls in place that give your customers the speed and convenience of online and mobile ordering, while enabling greater throughput, higher accuracy, and lower waste for your operations at the same time. To make this new frontier a reality, it’s important to consider your current operations and what you’ll need to add.

1. Order scheduling

What do next week’s team lunch, Saturday’s graduation party and the start of a long drive home from work in traffic have in common? Each of these occasions presents an opportunity when customers may want to place an order ahead of time, on their terms. Potentially, each of these orders might arrive via phone, in-store or through an online ordering system at the same time. For operators, adding ordering capability, order scheduling, or the ability to store orders and queue them up at the best time for preparation is crucial. When orders like these take place over the phone, they often create a complicated challenge for operations. The front of the house needs to work with the back of the house to determine the best time to start making an order so that it will be both ready and fresh when the customer arrives. Throw in shift changes, miscommunications or customer error, and the call-in order ends up cold, late, wrong or generally unsatisfactory, leading to poor customer service and possibly a lost customer. 

Fortunately, there are ways to remove this complexity by intelligently calculating how long an order will take to prepare based on the menu items that are included in the order. When setting up online ordering menus, restaurant chains should consider building in default values for how many “make-time minutes” each product requires. Store managers then can make modifications that reflect the on-the-ground realities at their stores. This way, orders fire to the POS just in time, and the kitchen has the perfect amount of time to prepare the order for the customer’s arrival. This same functionality is helpful for calculating order-ready time for customers ordering for ASAP as well. Putting these mechanisms in place also gives the customer a look at exactly how long his order will take to prepare before confirming it, providing greater visibility that he doesn’t get when walking into the store or ordering over the phone.

2. Order throttling

What if every customer wants to pick up his dinner at 7 p.m.? Wouldn’t that overload the digital ordering platform and result in a frustrated kitchen and customers who have to wait anyway? The same concept of “make-time minutes” provides the opportunity for “order throttling,” in which brands can set exactly how much digital ordering capacity they can handle in a given time slot (and again, store managers can make store-specific modifications). Measured in make-time minutes, order-throttling settings make it possible to get granular about how much capacity the kitchen and crew can handle. If other customers have exhausted the restaurant’s digital ordering capacity, a customer placing an order for a specific time may see a notification that her preferred pickup time is not available, along with a recommendation for alternate pickup times that are available (based on having kitchen capacity in those time slots). In practice, this type of notification is very familiar to customers who use services like OpenTable to book table reservations for restaurants with limited table capacity or Fandango to book tickets at movie theaters with limited seating capacity. Store operators also should consider disabling the acceptance of digital orders temporarily if a hungry tour bus arrives and the kitchen becomes overwhelmed. Knowing wait times upfront provides greater visibility for the customer and helps to avoid a frustrating experience.

3. New brand-level insights

Implementing ordering control mechanisms can lead immediately to increased revenue and more streamlined operations. Moreover, ordering platforms can provide long-term insights that marketing and operations can use to better manage the business. Online ordering can present reports on traffic by daypart that assist with staffing, product ordering and quality control. If, for example, 30 percent of online orders come in at 7 p.m., an operator can increase staffing or have the best crew teed up to work. Brands also can consider marketing incentives during times when orders coming from mobile or Web are light. At the corporate level, it provides a new way to incite friendly competition and contests among operators for top-performing online ordering stores.   

With the appropriate controls in place, digital ordering can give operators a powerful new tool that provides a better customer experience and enables for greater operational efficiency. For more insights on preparing to manage online ordering, operators can also download our company’s newest white paper, “How In-Store and Digital Ordering Play Nice: Managing Multi-Channel Restaurant Order Flow."


Topics: Online / Mobile / Social, Online Ordering, Operations Management, Staffing & Training

Noah Glass
Noah Glass is the Founder & CEO of Olo. Since 2005, Olo has helped restaurant brands increase revenue per square foot through faster, more accurate, and more personal service with digital ordering. wwwView Noah Glass's profile on LinkedIn

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