The temporary closure of dine-in operations across the country has forced restaurants to move quickly to shore up their off-premise channels, as well as their food safety procedures.
Today, Tech Tracker focuses on technology companies that are helping the industry with relief packages during their darkest hour.
For many restaurants, the pivot to carryout and delivery services during the coronavirus pandemic has been relatively easy as hundreds of chains had already embraced the on-demand movement.
But, that hasn’t been the case for hundreds of independent restaurants and small unit franchisees, who are scrambling to launch digital ordering channels from scratch.
“Now online is no longer nice to have. It’s a necessity to stay in business,” said Mo Sloan, founder of EZ-Chow, a Louisville, Ky.-based company that provides e-commerce solutions such as online ordering for restaurants.
As the COVID-19 pandemic escalates with many states ordering residents to shelter at home, Sloan said most of his clients are seeing a surge in online orders. On Monday, March 23, he said the volume of orders doubled compared to an average Monday.
On Friday and Saturday, EZ-Chow had “so much volume, our system was barely able to control it,” said Sloan, who helped develop Papa John’s initial online ordering system more than a decade ago.
Christopher Webb, CEO of Online ordering platform ChowNow, said his company is adding thousands of new restaurants this month. Historically, the company works with independent restaurants, but many of the new customers are franchisees with 15-20 locations, he said.
Founded in 2012, ChowNow offers online ordering through a restaurant’s Facebook page, its website, Google, a ChowNow-created app, or through the ChowNow website.
The less established EZ-Chow, on the other hand, is a startup company that works with about 125 restaurants including Flanigan's Seafood Bar and Grill in Florida, Ford Fry Restaurants and Keke’s Breakfast Cafe.
Photo: EZ-Chow is offering a discounted rate for restaurants needing to add digital channels for ordering and delivery.
Sloan said he is offering a relief package to new clients that will help them get up and running quickly. The package is a scaled-down version of the company’s platform, which is geared for delivery or takeout. It will allow a restaurant to list 40 menu items for $75 per month, about $20 less than the standard cost.
The commission fee is 75 cents per transaction, though Sloan said that number varies by concept. The entry level package is valid for those who make a 3-year commitment
Newton-based Paytronix Systems has also come up with a quick “turn key” solution for restaurants who want to add online ordering and delivery orders to their POS systems.
Paytouch said it would set up, at no initial cost, an online ordering, takeout, and delivery system for restaurants that do not currently offer those services.
Bite, which provides "smart" kiosk software, is offering to set up a flash version of its program for free for any restaurant needing to launch curbside pickup. The software would allow customers to make digital orders through their phone. Most restaurant can be up and running within 48 hours, the company said.
"No long term contracts or doublespeak," the company said.
"The past two weeks have been devastating for everyone in the hospitality industry," CEO Brandon Barton said in a statement. “No industry has been as decimated as the hospitality industry, and we just want to do our part to help support the people who support us.”
On the loyalty front, Thanx was one of the first companies to offer relief to its customers in response to coronavirus.
Thanx, which works with brands such as True Food Kitchen and Tocaya Organica, is a customer engagement company that helps restaurants reach new customers and broaden relationships with existing customers. It is is offering restaurants and retailers extended payment terms for up to 365 days as part of its "Emerge Stronger" program, CEO and founder Zach Goldstein said.
For new customers seeking to build their customer database after the crisis is over, Goldstein said Thanx is accelerating launches through the downturn with free account support while deferring fees until at least the third quarter.
“Thanx is also waiving fees for any new digital ordering or digital purchasing launches to help put cash in the hands of restaurants near-term,” he said.
Waiving fees at this time is crucial, as some third party delivery operators have only suspended partial fees which doesn’t help restaurants who will be hard-pressed to recoup losses and pay back what they owe when the crisis is over.
Food safety provider Zenput, which works with Chipotle Mexican Grill, also came out with a relief package for restaurants, supermarkets, and convenience stores. The company’s software is used by brands to audit restaurant operations remotely. With operators having to rethink how their daily operations, including mandating expanded safety protocols, CEO Vladik Rikhter said Zenput wants to help “wherever we can.”
“During this critical period, the company is providing multi-unit operators - at no charge or obligation - the ability to use Zenput to build out, communicate, and ensure compliance with their COVID-19 processes,” the company announced Wednesday.
The free program, which includes COVID-19 checklist templates, is available through June 30.
Countless fundraisers and gift card promotions are also occuring across the country. On Tuesday, Yelp launched a partnership with GoFundMe that allows consumers to support independent businesses through a donation link embedded on each restaurant's Yelp page.
Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven
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Updated: This story has been edited to include more details on supplier relief packages.