Both the past and future of online ordering made news last week, giving restaurant operators plenty to think about as they develop online ordering strategies and consider how to adapt their food production capacity to accommodate the volume of orders these technologies are likely to bring in.
Pizza Hut kicked off 2014 by celebrating its 20th year of generating restaurant orders online. The chain—whose PizzaNet digital ordering tool recorded the first online sale of a physical item back in 1994 when a customer ordered a large pepperoni, mushroom and extra cheese pizza via the Internet—offered customers a 50-percent-off-deal to mark the occasion.
The chain wants to up the ante this year.
"Our biggest goals in 2014 are to reaffirm our position as the technology leader in the pizza category," a Pizza Hut spokesman tells Entrepreneur. "As the company that first brought the online experience to consumers and introduced the first pizza ordering app, we are looking at a bunch of new breakthroughs this year, as well as generally improving the digital ordering experience for all consumers."
Pizza Hut isn’t the only restaurant chain that intends to give its customers an improved ordering experience this year. A joint technology venture between Domino’s and the Ford Motor Company hopes to move the process to a whole new level.
At the recent International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford showed off a new capability for its Ford SYNC in-car connectivity system, an option already in place on more than one million vehicles. It enables drivers to use voice commands to order Domino’s pizzas hands-free while driving. Rollout is set for later this year.
While using voice commands to order a pizza seems not much different than merely making a phone call, Ford has high hopes for its approach. “We're thrilled to add Domino's to the ever-expanding lineup of mobile apps Ford drivers can use hands-free," said Julius Marchwicki, global product manager for Ford SYNC AppLink. "Americans love pizza, and now they can have one ready for carryout or delivery when they are on their way home or heading to a gathering with friends.”
Deal platform company LiveDeal brings in customers hungry for pizza or any other type of food. Operators can instantly post deals that are specific to a day and/or time of day; customers view them and place order in real time. The idea is to give restaurants some control over how many orders come in, for what, and when.
“Restaurants want a cost-effective way to attract traffic on days they need business and ideally the right amount of traffic,” says company c.e.o Jon Isaac. “For livedeal.com users, especially mobile users, they're ready to eat, and looking to save money, so that impulse plays a big role in the platform's success."
If these order-generating strategies are as effective as their backers hope, operators could face new kind of problem: making orders as fast as they come in online at what might well be a highly unpredictable rate. It could be a problem for restaurants dealing with a dining room full of customers just as a flood of online orders appear on its system.
Will operators be able to make high-quality food items fast enough to meet customer expectations? That’s the puzzle they’re trying to solve at Pizzeria Locale, the Denver fast-casual pizzeria being financed by burrito king Chipotle Mexican Grill.
The restaurant, brainchild of Boulder, CO, standout Frasca partners Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey, aims to turn out premium pizzas in two minutes. "All these triple-cheese, stuffed this-and-that pizzas don't improve taste,”Mackinnon-Patterson says. "I want the canvas of the dough to be seasoned as you would a great salad.... It's just not something that most Americans are used to and we realize that."
The lesson here for other operators: in the future, you may want your restaurant to take, and make, orders faster than it does right now. The economics of doing so are highly favorable, and the technology enabling it is already here. Just be aware that quality and speed are what all these new customers will expect from you.