SoBol’s Shift to Online Ordering

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SoBol’s Shift to Online Ordering

By Anna Wolfe, Senior Editor - Restaurants - 06/18/2020
SoBol CEO Jason Mazzarone expects online ordering and contactless transactions to continue to soar. The healthy fast casual chain added online ordering in 2019, and today 80% of the chain’s orders are for off-prem.

SoBol launched online ordering last year, and it has proved essential for the fast-casual brand.

“Online ordering is becoming more and more popular especially with the younger generation,” said SoBol Founder & CEO Jason Mazzarone, who teamed up with Jim Kalomiris to develop the brand. The healthy fast casual concept has 41 locations in six Eastern states.

At first, online ordering was only 2-4% of sales. While slow to start, those early days of online sales warmed the franchises up “to the ginormous spike in online ordering” as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he said.  

Contactless transactions are on the rise. These days, about 80% of orders are to-go or takeout.  When ordering online, customers can now note curbside pickup, and cashless transactions are encouraged.   

“We want customers to feel safe and encourage them to do so, even post COVID-19,” said Mazzarone. “It's an easier transaction for the customer, and from an operations standpoint it’s a much smoother process.” 

Mazzarone has seen an uptick in mobile payments .  “Six year ago, a bigger percentage of customers were using cash.  In the last couple of years, more customers have been using mobile and contactless -- even before the pandemic.  We are getting a lot of payments through Venmo.  I see that only growing,” he said.  “As my age group (Editor’s Note: he self identifies as a millennial) becomes more influential, they will push that tech. The world will be a different place after this.

Hand-in-hand with online ordering, third-party delivery took off last year with GrubHub and ezCater, Caviar and Seamless.  The brand uses Checkmate to integrate orders into the POS (Some locations use Brink POS while others use Revel.)  DoorDash delivers the online ordering from sobol.com.

“Why I don’t agree with the fees, third-party delivery has done a great job of rising to the challenge and lessening the financial burden.  They’ve realized the importance of keeping us alive,” said Mazzarone. “I commend all of them and the POS vendors.”

Mazzarone, who based in Long Island, N.Y., describes the recent weeks as “a humbling turn of events” that has “brought out the best in people. People have come together and want to help everyone.”

Sanitation Standards

Sobol has always had a high sanitation standard, and cleaning has always been important.  “We are definitely changing our gloves more often and sanitizing more than before,” he said.

“Stores and operators that don’t have high standards won’t make it,” he added. “More consumers are conscious what they put in bodies and what they are touching, where they are eating, who is handling their food than ever before.  We are well positioned as a health-conscious wellness product.”

Among the lasting impact of COVID-19 will be consumers and employees concerns about sanitation and hygiene, he says.

Mask too "will be around for a while," and he expects "continued innovation through technology services to ensure a continued, strong contactless experience.”