It seems that most every industry these days is vying for millennial dollars and devotion. Like it or not, the 17-to-29-year-olds who have grown up with smartphones in hand are now determining the formulation and reformulation of most consumer-facing businesses. For an industry where millennials are projected to spend nearly $800 billion in 2017 (that’s 7 percent more on monthly food budgets than average Americans), restaurants are hankering to pull out all the stops to get millennials to order — in or out.
To win them over, many restaurants are betting that millennials prefer their meals with a side of technology — and it seems to be a safe bet. According to a recent restaurant industry survey, millennials are twice as likely to place an advanced order via a mobile device, and 62 percent have placed a digital order with a restaurant in the past six months.
Cowboy Chicken, a Dallas-based chicken chain, is one of the 66 percent of surveyed restaurants that either have installed their own mobile app technology or are considering doing so. The company debuted its app in January in an effort to capture more millennial consumers, according to the company’s president and CEO, Sean Kennedy.
“We’ve seen the shift to mobile ordering and mobile pay,” Kennedy told PYMNTS in a recent interview. “That’s where the millennial generation wants to be, and Cowboy Chicken wants to stay ahead of where guests want to be and enable them to experience our food on their terms.”
Hungering for convenience
One of the biggest things millennial consumers, who have grown up with the expediency of having the internet at their fingertips at all times, want and expect from brands is convenience.
In fact, millennial consumers may care about convenience so much that they’d be willing to sacrifice some other important perks from merchants of all kinds to get it. That includes 83 percent reporting scorning advanced security technology and protocols in favor of a more simplistic user experience.
Kennedy said he’s seen evidence of this first hand.
“Millennials really want the convenience of being able to order ahead, use mobile payments ahead of time, and walk in and pick up their order,” he said. “I think that’s where the future of the restaurant business is going.”
Kennedy noted that Cowboy Chicken chose to create their app with help from LevelUp, rather than create an in-house solution, to give consumers the option to pay for their orders via a mobile device, speeding up the pickup process.
But it isn’t enough for the app to just be convenient, Kennedy said. It also has to be simple for employees working in the company’s 20-plus restaurants to receive and fill the orders without delaying customers ordering in-house or those expecting to pick up their mobile order promptly.
To keep things simple, LevelUp and Cowboy Chicken partnered to build a system that feeds mobile orders directly into a location’s in-restaurant order feed, slotting those orders in the normal queue for cooks.
“When you place your order on the mobile app, it’s not going to a third-party system or a different ordering system or ordering stream. We really designed it so it would be seamless for our guests and seamless for our teams as well,” Kennedy said. “It’s that full level of convenience.”
But convenience isn’t enough on it’s own these days — not with so much of the competition also offering simple mobile ordering systems. Along with a more efficient ordering process, consumers expect choices, like the option to customize their food.
One recent survey of millennials found that more than a quarter of young consumers value personalization and customization more than any other feature offered by merchants — coming in only second to prompt and convenient service.
Kennedy believes that demand for personalization is even more prevalent when it comes to food service.
“When people are dinning out, they want to know what’s in their food, and they want to know what’s going into their bodies,” he said. “I think that’s more and more important to people lately, especially to the millennial generation.”
As a result, he said that Cowboy Chicken aims to give its customers information and tools to customize their ordering to their needs and likings. The app indicates which items on the menu meet common dietary restrictions, such as vegetarian or gluten-free diets, and is designed to easily allow customers to customize orders while placing them, a fairly common feature on mobile ordering apps.
But Cowboy Chicken goes one step further by allowing customers to build their dietary restrictions or needs into their customer profile. Once those options are entered, the app will automatically display and customize orders to fit those restrictions.
“If you’re a vegan, or a vegetarian, or dairy-free, or gluten-free, we want to provide the information through our app so you can make informed decisions,” Kennedy explained. “But more than that, we want to enhance our service and give customers a way to track and customize their orders, and that component has been very helpful.”
Customers seem to be taking advantage of the customization options, even in the app’s relative infancy. So far, orders placed through the app tend to have more customization and higher ticket prices than order placed in-store, and Kennedy attributed this to the app’s customization options.
Giving customers more?
The Cowboy Chicken app has been available to customers for just about six months. And while Kennedy said that while the company is happy with the app and its adoption so far, he noted there is still more work to be done.
Kennedy and his team are currently working on adding additional features to the app, including a social media integration. Kennedy said he thinks adding a social component to the app has the potential to unlock lots of benefits for the company, including increased marketing and promotional opportunities.
“There’s a social or sharing component that will be added soon, in an effort to increase awareness of the app and improve the user experience,” Kennedy said.
Whether it’s Facebook and Twitter additions or other improvements, expect to see new things from Cowboy Chicken and other mobile-order ahead entrants soon. After all, there are still plenty more millennials to attract. Non-millennials, too.
“As we move forward, the app will continue to evolve,” Kennedy said. “We’re just getting started.”
To download the June edition of the PYMNTS Mobile Order-Ahead Tracker™, powered by LevelUp, click the button below.
About the Tracker
The PYMNTS Mobile Order-Ahead Tracker™, powered by LevelUp, serves as a monthly framework for the space, providing coverage of the most recent news and trends, along with a provider directory highlighting the key players contributing across the segments that comprise the mobile order-ahead ecosystem.