As restaurant kitchens go back in time — returning to simpler methods and simple ingredients sourced from a chef’s proverbial backyard rather than a factory — the front-of-house is jumping head-first into the future.
When it comes to restaurant operations and customer service, the foodservice landscape is facing a time of tremendous change. According to Warren Price, EVP for New York Fries, mobile technology has become critical to delivering exceptional customer experiences. “For many, mobile is simply an extension of what they’re used to doing online,” he explains. Restaurant chains have not been shy to adopt mobile technology. Data from Chicago-based foodservice consulting firm Technomic shows pizza chains are leading the way with online-ordering apps. In fact, among the 44 restaurant brands Technomic tracks in Canada, pizza chains earn three of the top five spots when it comes to this attribute. Panago Pizza, Pizza Delight and Domino’s rank as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ at integrating technology into the ordering process, based on their most recent ordering experience.
Despite similarities among the top-rated chains, the pizza segment stands out for other advancements. For example, Panago’s and Domino’s mobile applications allow customers to customize orders and create their own pizzas. Domino’s has integrated an order tracker into its online and mobile platforms, which allows consumers to see when their order is being made and sent out for delivery.
While pizza chains generally earn the highest praise from consumers in this area, two other chains also rank in the top five for their integration of technology — Swiss Chalet and Tim Hortons. Swiss Chalet’s online-ordering platform is interactive and makes it easy for consumers to order and pay for their meal, while Tim Hortons’ mobile application, TimmyMe, allows customers to pay and earn rewards by using their smartphone. When it comes to third-party ordering apps, companies such as Just Eat are bringing an unparalleled level of innovation to the market. In the nearly two years since the successful IPO of Just Eat and Seamless, nearly every month has seen announcements of new competitors, making the third-party ordering app market the most competitive in the foodservice sector.
Though skeptics may fear market saturation, analysts still see plenty of room in the market for healthy competition. “With the slow growth in the economy and job growth, many are forced to work two or more jobs. With restaurant-delivery services or delivery of prepared meals, the convenience factor is going to be attractive and offer viable relief,” says Bill Bender, FCSI consultant and founder of W.H. Bender & Associates, a restaurant and foodservice consulting firm. Furthermore, “On-demand food-delivery platforms offer the customer a wide variety of dining options while allowing restaurants to reach a customer they might have missed — all without shouldering the added financial cost of liability, risk and added payroll,” says Adam Lamb, a U.S.-based restaurant consultant, coach and chef.
Despite all that it promises, online ordering does still have some hurdles to cross. Common customer complaints centre around extra fees, long waits and a poor selection of foods. Added third-party fees can sometimes double the cost of an order — not to mention the added cost of tipping the driver. On top of costly fees, delivery services have been known to struggle with their delivery-time quotes. UberEats, for example, attempted to offer 10-minute delivery times in New York in March but had to scrap the option in April as it simply could not keep its promise. Finally, the allure of endless delivery choices relies heavily on location; smaller cities with fewer local participating restaurants make third-party ordering apps very limited in their offerings, often causing users to abandon a delivery app.
When balancing the pros and cons of the current state of online ordering apps, it can be difficult for those within the foodservice industry to predict what the future holds. Luckily, a few companies have offered a small glimpse into what’s to come. In November, Just Eat held a press conference where it shared insight into a project the company started in London, England in September. Through a partnership with Starship Technologies, Just Eat has been piloting self-driving robots to deliver its orders, in hopes of dramatically increasing its ordering capacity.
At the conference, the company elaborated on how artificial intelligence and emerging technologies in virtual and augmented reality have helped shape robotics in the future of food delivery. Also presenting at the event was Microsoft, which demonstrated its HoloLens technology, which offers a more visually immersive menu that helps customers see a realistic representation of a menu item they haven’t tried before.
Just Eat also revealed apps slated for the Apple TV and the Xbox One in Dec. 2016 and Jan. 2017, respectively, which will allow customers to order food from their television sets. These new apps — along with the recent launch of Just Eat’s dedicated customer-care chatbots built for Microsoft systems and Facebook Messenger — are part of the company’s attempt to build ordering experiences into customers’ everyday routines.
With so much happening at such breakneck speed, it can be difficult to keep one’s head from spinning when contemplating the online-food-delivery landscape of the future. But one thing is for sure, there is no end in sight for what the industry can achieve, as long as young, fledgling companies like Just Eat are actively partnering with both the foodservice industry as well as tech giants like Microsoft, Google and Apple.
Volume 49, Number 11
Written By Eric Alister