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The Anonymous CIO: Understanding Digital Order Ahead


The journey of the technology executive in today’s retailing environment is littered with strategic obstacles, unsolved problems, and unclear paths forward. Many CIOs, VPs and technology leaders are forced to travel this journey alone, with few trusted resources to rely upon as risk-free sounding boards and sources of trusted consultation.

This column aims to serve as a forum for technology executives to share candid “war-stories” anonymously with their peers, creating a growing pool of collective wisdom for the betterment of the industry.

This edition focuses on one national casual dining brand’s experience with Order Ahead.

Q: What is your reaction to Order Ahead as a business capability?
Anonymous CIO: Order Ahead is a great thing. It is not exactly new though; restaurants have been providing the concept of Order Ahead forever in the form of phone orders. However, many brands are looking at digital Order Ahead as an all new capability. We’ve realized that digital Order Ahead is a great way for getting orders into the restaurants from existing and new guests. When compared to call-in Order Ahead, digital Order Ahead has many advantages including better usability for the guest, removing the need to tie up a server for order entry, and increased order accuracy. The biggest difference that we notice is the order accuracy; call-in orders have a high probably of being taken incorrectly due to the complexity of some of our orders paired with the potential for unclear phone audio.

Q: Will certain industry segments see a larger push towards Order Ahead than others?
Anonymous CIO: No, I think that guests’ demands around Order Ahead will impact all segment fairly equally. Today, consumers want to be able to plan what they are going to eat and when they are going to eat it. The type of segment really doesn’t matter if the guest has the same Order Ahead experience of: arriving, picking up their food, and leaving; It is simply a matter of product preference and the ability for a restaurant to make the process convenient for the guest. Today’s guests are constantly “on the run”, especially during lunch; they want to be able to quickly pick up their lunch as opposed to sitting down for a dining experience.

Q: What will be some of the challenges around Order Ahead for brands that have never offered the capability in the past?
Anonymous CIO: The biggest challenge will be integrating the concept into their daily operations. Many brands make the mistake of assuming that once they get the digital technology working, then the work is done, and they will automatically make more money through the Order Ahead channel. In actuality, the operational changes required for supporting Order Ahead play an equally important role in ensuring the success of the initiative; you need to make sure that your stores can handle the extra volume and provide the Order Ahead guests with a frictionless experience and high-quality food. A secondary challenge is getting guests to actually use the Order Ahead technology. Marketing has a big role to play in converting guests into users of a brand Order Ahead technology.

Q: What do brands need to know to be successful with Order Ahead?
Anonymous CIO: Allowing the guest to easily interact with your brand is key; if a significant number of your guests are more comfortable using digital technology instead of making calls, such as browsing menu options on their smartphone, then your brand needs to provide that digital platform. Otherwise, the guest will move on to another brand that provides them with an experience that is more comfortable and convenient.

Additionally, brands with their own digital platforms need to understand how to compete with aggregators, such as UberEats and Grubhub. When an individual uses UberEats, they are UberEat’s guest; the brand has no control over that guest’s experience. The key is then finding ways to convert guests from being an aggregator's guest to one of your brand’s guests, by incentivizing them to come directly to your brand’s digital platform. Embedded brand loyalty programs seem to be an effective way to accomplish this goal; think of how hotels still manage to attract return customers although many of those customers book their stays through travel aggregators like Expedia.

About the Author
George Orlin is the COO for Intelligent Transactions. He has more 10 years of experience in helping foodservice and retail brands drive strategic business results through the implementation of the right technology, operations, and culture. Intelligent Transactions is a strategic technology consultancy with an extensive history of helping multi-unit foodservice brands define and achieve their Store of the Future by pairing the right near-term and long-term technology strategies with their overarching business objectives.

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