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Q-and-A: OLO’s Noah Glass on the importance of digital tools in an on-demand world

Taking advantage of digital and mobile tools is increasingly important for restaurants that want to stay current and appeal to busy customers who value convenience. I interviewed Noah Glass, founder and CEO of OLO, a self-service ordering provider that has provided ordering solutions for more than 150 restaurant brands, including Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Cold Stone Creamery, about the importance of digital tools and how mobile ordering can help restaurants succeed.

What features does OLO consider when creating a mobile ordering app for a restaurant?

OLO encourages restaurant brands to adopt a “utility first” philosophy for mobile apps. That means that it’s important to add value to the everyday customer experience by focusing on letting the customer order and pay from the mobile app and skip the line at the restaurant. Other key app elements include Store Locator functionality and allowing the user to save his account on file, so that he does not need to log-in with a user name and password each time and the app can display his Saved Favorites and Past Orders and securely pay with a card on file. At OLO, we remove all extraneous clicks to make the order/pay process as intuitive and efficient as possible, while allowing customers to build orders from full restaurant menus and customization options, set their own pickup time (or delivery time, if the restaurant offers delivery), and store multiple credit cards on their account for maximum flexibility.

How are digital engagement tools like mobile ordering providing restaurant marketers with a complete view of today’s customer?

Most users who are utilizing mobile apps create a digital customer account with the restaurant brand (e-mail address and password), which they can use on the restaurant website or on the app to log in. Many users also allow the restaurant brand to use their e-mail address to notify them about special offers and promotions through an e-mail service like Fishbowl. Whenever a customer orders from their user account (whether it is online or through the app), the brand is gathering data about that customer’s likes and dislikes and building the customer profile. Restaurants can then build marketing campaigns based upon the products that customers have ordered in the past (e.g., If you add “Extra Bacon” to your cheeseburger on every order, you’re probably likely to respond to a marketing message about a new BLT sandwich that the restaurant just started offering). E-mail marketing is one way to reach the customer. That said, Mobile Push marketing is my tool of choice. Mobile Push means that I can send a message to my target audience and know that it will hit their hip pocket at a specific time of day and only if they are near one of my stores. Right customer. Right message. Right place. Right time. That promise makes mobile apps an amazing new digital customer engagement platform for brands.

What does the increase in mobile ordering mean for restaurant managers, especially in terms of training and hiring? As more orders come in through digital channels, will we see an increase in kitchen/back of house staff and fewer positions for workers at the point of sale?

I think about how self-service ordering will impact the front of the house operation in the same way that I think about how EZ Pass has changed toll booths. Remember when it used to be four lanes with three that were full-service/cash only and one that was EZ Pass? Now the number of drivers using EZ Pass has increased so much that many toll booths are the exact opposite: one full-service/cash only and three EZ Pass. If the self-service enabled restaurant can shift their labor from order taking to order making, that’s great for throughput and same store sales will rise. Self-service orders look to the back of the house exactly like full-service orders do, except the receipt says the customer’s name and indicates that the order was a self-service order (e.g., receipt reads “WEB ORDER — Noah Glass” or something similar). That makes for little need to retrain the employees. The app instructs the customer to walk right to the expeditor, say his name and pick up his order. No need to stop and pay with the cashier.

How can the addition of mobile ordering help restaurants attract new customers?

In a recent National Restaurant Association study, over 64% of customers between the ages of 18 and 44 said that they would like to order ahead of time to get food faster. In an on-demand world (and for the on-demand generation that grew up in it), customers have zero patience for waiting longer than necessary. So when it’s possible to link together consumer technology and restaurant technology and enable a better experience through mobile ordering and a restaurant brand chooses not to do so, the brand risks alienating customers and losing business. Once a customer downloads an OLO client’s app and places his first order, restaurant brands report a 32% increase in order frequency because of the added convenience of enabling the customer to order in just “six clicks” and skip the line.