Taps. Can you hear them? They’re the almost-silent beat of the mobile ordering revolution.
Loaded potato skins — tap. Pan-seared pot stickers — tap. Place order — tap.
Mobile order-ahead technology has changed the game for restaurants, even for those that aren’t focused on speed. But could declining consumer appetite for downloading lots of individual apps (the mobile variety) add a new ingredient to the revolution?
Mobile order-ahead services are increasingly popular at various types of restaurant concepts, but they’re most commonly associated with quick-service restaurants (QSRs) — restaurants that strive to get customers in and out as quickly as possible.
But as mobile technology becomes more popular in the dining industry, casual eat-in restaurants like TGI Fridays are also embracing mobile order-ahead services with an eye toward finding new customers via digital opportunities. The company first introduced mobile ordering capabilities in 2016 through its own branded app TGI Fridays Mobile App, an offering that was originally part of an effort to increase what the company refers to as “off-premise sales” — or, as average people are more likely to call it, “take-out.”
According to Gail Seanor, senior director of marketing technology at TGI Fridays, the results have been largely positive. The company has seen a 30 percent increase in off-premise sales since enabling online mobile ordering capabilities less than 12 months ago, Seanor said — all without change to in-store revenue.
But with recent research indicating 50 percent of smartphone users do not download any new apps in a given month, Seanor said TGI Fridays wanted to do more around online ordering, outside of its own app, to reach people who had not previously been TGI Fridays customers. To that end, the company recently announced news that it was the first restaurant partner in Amazon’s Pay Places service. Currently available in select U.S. markets, the Pay Places offering is designed to allow consumers to directly access third-party services — like mobile order-ahead features from a variety of restaurants — via Amazon’s app.
In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Seanor discussed TGI Fridays’ experience with mobile order-ahead services and the company’s digital roadmap.
“One of the things that has been most critical for Fridays [is] to help promote off-premise sales via mobile ordering,” Seanor said. “We’re really looking for ways to expand that and make things easier for our guests, and we partnered with Amazon primarily to help expand those capabilities.”
Appetite for App-based Dining
TGI Fridays first rolled out a branded smartphone app in 2014 focused on helping guests find nearby restaurants and promotional offers. But to satisfy customer demand for modern payment options, the company revamped the app and released an update in 2016.
The redesigned app debuted with only one new capability: enabling dine-in customers to pay for meals at their tables via a mobile device, allowing them to skip having to wait and pay checks from their servers. With the update, the company saw adoption spike. Seanor said the app experienced a 65 percent usage and adoption increase in the first few months, prompting further mobile application development.
“Once we decided to offer the mobile payment capability, we found that guests were really interested in using it,” she said. “We saw really significant growth from it, so we wanted to expand that experience and give them more ways to connect with Fridays.”
The QSR company released another update in the fall of 2016, giving guests the option of ordering meals to-go from their phone, tablet or computer.
In the months since rolling out mobile and online ordering services, Seanor said TGI Fridays has learned many lessons about what its customers want from a mobile offering — and what they don’t want.
Chief among those has been the importance of personalizing digital experiences for individual customers. For TGI Fridays, that now arrives in the form of personalized recommendations and calls to action based on a customer’s order history and habits.
Seanor said these recommendations often result in repeat orders. Thirty-five percent of customers who receive messaging place an order, even without coupons or other promotional discounts.
“We’ll send someone who has ordered ribs emails and messages about rib offerings as opposed to chicken,” Seanor said. “It’s also time-based. So, if you have placed an order at six o’clock, at five o’clock we’re going to send you a message asking you to repeat your order …Often we’ve found that those messages result in orders because [it] makes it really easy and painless for customers to reorder at a time [when] they are probably figuring out what they’re eating” for dinner.
Mobile Order-Ahead’s App-nostic Future?
Seanor also noted that personalizing the experience for individual customers means giving them new options to access TGI Fridays’ service.
Because the company knew there were many consumers who would not be willing to download individual apps for TGI Fridays — or other retailers and restaurants, for that matter — Seanor said the brand chose to partner with Amazon to reach new customers who aren’t connecting with the brand via its own mobile offering.
“We’ve found that no matter how they are ordering, when we add a new take-out method, it’s typically bringing in new customers to the restaurant, not customers who already come here to dine in,” Seanor said. “So we’re looking for strategic partnerships to help us expand those options.”
Amazon’s Pay Places offering and the debut partnership with TGI Fridays are in the early stages, and Seanor said the company is eager to offer services to new customers using Amazon’s app, along with possible future integrations.
“We’re definitely exploring all options, and we’re really interested in how we can expand our use of technology and bring it further into our restaurant and experience,” Seanor said. “We’re going to continue our partnership with Amazon and others, and we’re committed to using mobile technology to [create] an easier and more personalized experience.”
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The PYMNTS Mobile Order-Ahead Tracker™ 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.