Fast tech for faster food

The fact people have taken to technology when eating out is not a revelation. In a world where there’s an app (or several) for everything, it should come as no surprise that mobile order and pay, self-order kiosks and loyalty apps are making headlines in the food service world.

McDonald’s recently announced it would start trialling mobile order and pay across the USA, following in the footsteps of Domino’s, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks (among many others). And while undisputed-mobile-order-ahead-champion Starbucks gave us a good lesson on the importance of making sure your infrastructure can actually cope with the exciting new technologies you’re implementing, the move towards tech seems to be working out rather well for QSR brands in general.

Market Force Information reported 44% of consumers had used some kind of technology when visiting a restaurant, up from 30% the previous year, and Deloitte found customers visit 6% more often and spend 20% more when using technology to place an order. Business Insider estimates that mobile order ahead will be a $38 billion industry by 2020 – accounting for 11% of QSR sales. Given the rate everything’s blowing up, that might turn out to be a somewhat conservative prediction…


Dining 2.0

Mobile order and pay speeds up the process by allowing customers to bypass lines – although placing orders at the checkout will probably be an option for some time yet. As we saw with Starbucks’ initial foray into the world of mobile ordering, restaurants need to be aware of the likely impact of this convenience on the in-store experience. The coffee brand has since worked on improving the customer experience by adding dedicated mobile-order baristas in busy periods, and sending alerts SMS to customers when their orders are ready in an effort to reduce congestion in stores.

McDonald’s is going even further and redesigning its kitchen and dining processes to support the projected increase in orders: shorter assembly lines, redesigned dining rooms with kiosks, more curbside-picking up parking spots. The company will also be using tracking technology so it can start preparing orders when customers are in proximity – which we’ve discussed previously. Basically: less waiting around, no orders sitting on the pass waiting to be claimed, fewer melted sundaes and soggy fries, everyone wins. We’ve already seen what happens when stores are hit by a sudden influx of customers who then have to stand around waiting for orders to be prepared, and McDonald’s seems to have taken the lessons to heart.

Shake Shack on the other hand has taken a very deliberate approach to its mobile order ahead rollout, starting small and designing a mobile experience that is very close to how it currently works, with an interface mimicking the in-house order system. The brand has not only limited the number of restaurants that take mobile orders, but limited the number of mobile orders those restaurants accept, which has allowed the kitchens to adjust to the new ordering without having to fundamentally change the way they operate.

The especially good news for us is that integrating mobile order ahead and mobile order and pay with loyalty programs only makes things better. According to NPD:

"Deals and promotions play an important role in digital ordering. When consumers order digitally, they are twice as likely to order on a deal, and that deal is usually a coupon. Twenty-nine percent of all digital orders used a coupon."

There’s a natural alignment between mobile ordering tech and mobile loyalty – something we’ve been doing for customers for quite a while now, with a fair bit of success. If QSR brands can find that magic combination of the speed and convenience of mobile ordering and the real-time relevance of personalized marketing (and they can avoid overloading stores in the meantime), they’ll be well positioned for ongoing dining domination.