Foodservice Equipment: Tap, Eat and Go

Will mobile ordering become a cost of entry?

Thirty-seven percent of fast-casual restaurants offer digital ordering, and the first convenience-store chains are beginning to follow suit. That was evident at the "Right at Your Thumbtip: Mobile Ordering" education session at the 2014 NACS Show in Las Vegas, where on mobile-ordering app provider, New York-based Olo founder and CEO Noah Glass, was joined on the stage by Rugwed Phatak, director of marketing for Giant Eagle. Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle uses Olo’s app at its Market District grocery locations and is set to launch mobile ordering at GetGo c-stores next summer.

“This is starting to become a cost of entry,” said Phatak of mobile ordering, pointing to a growing subset of customers who expect this service from the restaurants they visit.

While any mobile-ordering service has its own services and setup, Olo’s can work like this: When customers arrive at the store to pick up their food, they check in on the app, which triggers the kitchen to start the order if the user hasn’t designated a set time.

The user also chooses whether he or she plans to go in to get food, use curbside pick up, or fill up the car with gas, in which case an employee would run the food right out to the pumps. Once the customer chooses a delivery method, a countdown clock starts on the user’s phone. This is when it can turn into a game, said Glass, with fun guarantees such as a free doughnut if the food isn’t delivered in 3 minutes.

One of the most compelling results of the experience to date for Giant Eagle: It currently receives 35% higher rings for mobile ordering than in-store tickets. Why? Mobile ordering allows users to compile their order at a slower pace, without the pressure of the queue behind them. They can also take the time to ask colleagues, roommates or family members if they want something too, increasing that ticket size minute by minute.

The consumer benefits of mobile ordering also benefit the operator. The user’s ability to customize an order gives operators an idea of preferences, so he or she can avoid receiving promotional pushes around items that will never get ordered. Users can also save favorites to speed up future ordering, creating another bank of data for the operator to scrutinize.

And now for the elephant in the room: price. Olo and, according to Glass, other similar providers charge a flat fee of $100 per store per month. Phatak says that while ROI can’t calculate the importance of brand perception, he estimates needing to sell about $15 per day per store through the app to make it worthwhile. While it might take time to build up that kind of use, “look six, eight months down the road—that’s not that unreasonable,” he said.