Operations – Online Reviews & Ordering

by Peter Thor, President, Bellissimo Foods

At every Pizza Expo there is at least one hot topic or trend that seems to capture imaginations. Example topics like organic, all natural, low-carb, and gluten-free come to mind. This year, technology changes have been all the buzz. Never before have so many new Point of Sale (POS), Online ordering, and similar systems been represented in Las Vegas at Pizza Expo. Healthy debate often emerges as to whether something new represents a passing “fad” or a (here to stay) “trend”. Of course there is also the question of whether something that may work for large chain restaurants would also be beneficial and cost effective for independent quick serve restaurants to embrace.

We’re convinced that personal ordering, online or electronically in-store, and eventually online payment via smart phone are trends and should be adopted sooner rather than later by independent restaurateurs including pizzeria operators. Most pizzerias do not need reservation systems, but would benefit from online ordering. There are actually some newly introduced options which are cost effective and can be adopted relatively easily.

But let’s start with the basic fact that smart phones are widely adopted already in the USA, and many people, especially the younger generation, prefer ordering online compared to using the phone or standing in line. Another fact is that pizza chain competition has already adopted online ordering with great success which has driven sales growth and lower costs. Over 40% of pizza chain deliveries now are placed via a smart phone or computer. So the questions related to whether or not to create an online ordering capability should be (1) what are my options?, (2) how much would it cost?, and (3) who can help me and how much of my time will it take? Eventually the technology will seamlessly enable paying as well to reduce the time and cost of guest check and credit card processing. It is also important to recognize that one of the major benefits for customers is the perceived time saving during ordering and check-out.

What are my options? We suggest your first call should be to your current software provider, probably your POS system software. If they do not already provide an option, they can probably recommend a local partner that could integrate into what you already have. But if you wish to move to something entirely new, a quick online search will provide many options. One to be taken seriously is Facebook, which is coming out with Facebook Ordering which will enable orders placed from Facebook accounts. Companies such as ChowNow and NetWaiter are helping companies get their menu ordering on Facebook. At the very least, every restaurant should have a basic website and an online order option if take-out or delivery are offered.

Electronic in-store ordering and check-out from tables will also grow as technologies, making service faster and more accurate. It is important to note, however, that part of the appeal of independent restaurants is their uniqueness of food and service. Just as it is important to differentiate with quality food, use technology to improve your service and not replace it.

A major benefit for operators is the information that can be used to improve operations and marketing. Unlike credit card processing which provides almost no consumer information, online ordering data will show customer demographics and ordering trends while enabling targeted promotions back to your customer smart phones.

But technology cuts both ways. Online reviews to Yelp can benefit to quickly identify problems in menu, presentation, and service. Positive reviews can drive growth and new customers. But bad Yelp reviews can also hurt traffic and devastate a business if not reasonably managed. Yelp has caused many restaurant operators and chefs to rethink marketing, media coverage, and their online presence. Restaurants can advertise on Yelp, and some suggest that provides benefits in reviews and online search. Whether or not you advertise, Yelp can be sort of an online Yellow Pages, providing basic information like address, menu, hours, and a link to your website. About 60% of Yelp searches come from mobile devises, and restaurant reviews are widely used. Yelp is expanding into other restaurant based services also, having purchased a reservation service called SeatMe, a competitor to OpenTable.

Start from your current situation, even if you just have a basic website. Check your listing on Yelp for accuracy, and begin the process of building and managing your online presence. Delivering better quality authentic Italian style products to our independent restaurant operators is what we do, but our purpose is to help independents effectively compete; to your success!

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