Ordering online or via app is reshaping the QSR landscape. Brands launch these ordering channels eagerly anticipating increased orders, higher customer satisfaction and more repeat business due to better and faster service and an uptick in profits.
However, when launching these new ordering and payment channels, some QSRs encounter some operational surprises. Let me point out some of these potential pitfalls, and share why I am personally excited by the potential that mobile and app ordering represent for restaurants that buck the status quo and try something new.
Bad news first: Potential pitfalls
Here are three that come to mind:
- An uptick in mobile orders leads to crowds at the pickup counter. Customers considering coming in change their minds when they see crowds.
- A crowded drive-thru can give the same negative perception, unless you have more than one window, or even a separate pick-up window dedicated to mobile and food delivery service orders.
- Confusion or lack of attention on the customer's part results in the order being fulfilled by one store, while the customer shows up someplace else. Oops.
A regional brand based near Chicago ... tripled its drive-thru volume by instituting mobile
ordering and payment and dedicating a mobile pick-up drive-thru window. Yes, tripled.
The silver lining: Promises
In my experience, mobile and app ordering result in greater convenience for customers and hold great promise for quick service brands especially for these essential qualities:
- Ordering simplification.
- Reduced lines/waiting.
- Improved customer experiences.
- Manpower extension.
On that last item, QSR brands can also benefit from the gift of time as a result of mobile and app ordering because it essentially "outsources" the ordering-and-payment function to your customers. As a result, employees have more time to focus on food prep and in-store service, which is, after all, what most of operators got into the business to do in the first place, isn't it?
How does all this translate into the reality of the quick-service business every day? Two examples come to mind, beginning first with a regional brand based near Chicago that tripled its drive-thru volume by instituting mobile ordering and payment and dedicating a mobile pick-up drive-thru window. Yes, tripled.
Additionally, a 600-location QSR that worked with Heartland Commerce on an all-in-one loyalty/rewards mobile ordering app has found it to be wildly popular, as well. Part of the reason for its effectiveness was found to be the prominent placement of an option that allows customers to place orders for pickup at their choice of locations.
Here are the lessons in all this
Simply put, if you want to avoid those potential pitfalls, QSR operators need to know well in advance that making these changes will significantly affect downstream or adjacent parts of your business. So first, work hard to anticipate and plan for disruptions and problems these systems can produce system-wide.
But just as important is that once your new ordering channel is launched, you must be able to make course corrections and adjust operations as needed if things don't go exactly as anticipated. To assist in both those processes, here are some specific pain-points to plan for ahead of time:
- Mobile ordering makes kitchen management integration with the POS and kitchen management software and displays, all the more essential. Tracking order origination, flow, and aspects of order prep, such as timing and inventory, are all dependent on accurate, rich information. Do not save this type of pre-planning until after launching an online/app-based ordering system. Make sure your systems "talk" to each other or pay the potential business-busting consequences.
- In your app, make sure customers can set an established pick-up time and location. We all lead time-starved, distraction-heavy lives so be sure pick-up location is a prominent feature in the ordering app and add a confirmation step or deal with the disgruntled customers. Yes, they may have made the mistake, but your brand pays the consequences.
- Re-think in-store order fulfillment and pickup flow. Create a flowchart that accounts for equipment location, informational signs and staffing mix and be sure to train staff on any resulting changes in the process.
- If your mobile ordering leads to an uptick in business, congratulations! But keep a watchful eye on labor to avoid violating overtime laws.
Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Curbside, Customer Service / Experience, Delivery, Drive-thru, Equipment & Supplies, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Mobile Payments, Online / Mobile / Social, Operations Management, Staffing & Training, Systems / Technology
Christopher Sebes has spent his entire career in hospitality management and technology. He received a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management in England and managed hotels and restaurants on three continents including multi-unit restaurant operations in Europe and the US. He created the first Microsoft Windows point-of-sale company, Twenty20 Visual Systems, which he sold to Squirrel Systems. He went on to become the CEO of Progressive Software before founding XPIENT in 2004. XPIENT was sold to Heartland Payments Systems in 2015, and he was tapped to become the President of Heartland Commerce, a major player in restaurant and retail management technology. Today Christopher is the President of Xenial Inc., formerly known as Heartland Commerce.