A few years ago, Five Guys Burgers & Fries had a problem.
While the quick-service burger chain was exploding in popularity, thanks to its fresh, made-to-order offerings, those same qualities meant the company could not keep up with its competition who had conveniences like drive-through windows that makes fast food so appealing and big-name burger chains like Burger King and McDonald’s consistently on top in terms of speed.
Five Guys executives tried to solve the problem with a primitive mobile order-ahead prototype that accepted orders by phone. But while phone orders may have given customers a quicker experience, it was more of a quick fix than a long-term solution. Complex orders were sometimes difficult to communicate over the phone, causing logistical complications for the kitchen staff as they tried to make sure called-in orders were ready when those customers arrived, all without delaying those guests who were waiting in line to order in-person.
The capper, as it turns out, was that stores were losing money on the phone orders due to no-shows. Payment was only accepted upon pickup, and so unpaid burgers were left to linger — and no-show fries became bundles of abandonment.
It was time to hang up the phone and find another solution.
Starting in 2011, that solution was the Five Guys Burgers & Fries mobile app, one of the first mobile-ordering apps widely available when it was introduced in partnership with Olo. According to Molly Catalano, vice president of marketing at Five Guys, it was designed to give both Five Guys’ customers and employees a better experience with advanced ordering.
“We wanted to make things easier for our customers, and this certainly does that,” Catalano told PYMNTS in a recent interview. “But we also realized that it could make things so much better, operationally, for our staff.”
Better for Stores
For all its added convenience to customers, Five Guys’ first, phone-based mobile order-ahead experiment was far from perfect.
While customers enjoyed the convenience of placing orders in advance over the phone, it presented countless complications for stores, from abandoned orders that cost the company $10,000 in wasted food a year, to unhappy and impatient customers waiting to be served in-store.
To solve these problems — while still offering a speedier option for customers — Catalano said Five Guys looked for a solution that could satisfy the customer quest for convenience, without making employees’ jobs more difficult.
“Customers liked being able to order in advance, and our stores were getting a lot of call-in orders,” she explained, noting that under this system, taking and entering phone orders were primarily the responsibility of cashiers. “But when you have someone in-store standing in front of you and another person on the phone, it can become difficult to manage both of those customers.”
And so, along came the app. And with it, a new mobile ordering system that promised to lessen logistical woes for employees while eliminating abandoned orders.
The company developed a solution that feeds mobile orders directly into the same system in which in-store orders are placed. Consumers can place their order via the app without needing help from an employee, and their order will be placed in the same flow as other in-store orders and prepared in the order it was received.
“Now, employees can give customers better service because their attention isn’t divided among different order channels,” Catalano said.
The app also has another, perhaps even bigger, benefit for stores.
Whether it’s due to a simpler experience or the reminders to add a side or drink that the app sends to consumers before they check out, consumers tend to spend 25 percent more, on average, when ordering through the mobile app. Catalano noted that advanced ordering, which used to cost the company thousands of dollars on account of no-shows and abandoned orders, is now a boon for revenue.
Better for Consumers
While the genesis of the Five Guys mobile app may have been a more friction-free remote ordering experience for stores, customers seem to have appreciated the update as well.
The company was one of the first QSRs to introduce mobile order-ahead services when it debuted in 2011, and 75 percent of users who have placed an order on the mobile ordering app have become repeat visitors. Catalano said she attributes the high app satisfaction to its ease of use.
“The aim was to make it as simple and straightforward as possible, and customers have really responded to that,” she said. “The app is really geared toward ordering, and the biggest benefit is that time-saving aspect. When they’ve arrived, they’ve already paid, they’ve already placed a customized order, they just need to check in with the cashier, which eliminates a lot of the hassle that comes with placing an order.”
While other mobile offerings also include loyalty rewards or other value-added features for consumers, Five Guys has taken a different approach, Catalano said. The company has found that customers aren’t looking for a solution with lots of bells and whistles, but rather, a simple interface that allows them to make an order without too much waiting or complications.
While the marketing executive may at times be tempted to use the app to promote Five Guys’ mission or deliver other features, Catalano said that she’s learned to quash those impulses to market to app users, with an aim toward keeping their experience as simple as possible. “We’ve found that our customers don’t really want us to [market to them within the app]. They just want to order their food, and for us to make it easy and quick.”
The Great Mobile Order-Ahead Future
As smartphones and other mobile devices become more advanced and begin offering consumers even more possibilities, Catalano said that Five Guys plans to keep the advanced ordering experiences as simple as possible for both consumers and employees.
But that doesn’t mean the company is ignoring new advancements or developments in the space. Catalano said Five Guys is currently working with DoorDash to enable delivery orders via the DoorDash app, with hopes of testing a delivery integration on the Five Guys app itself soon.
“Anything that can make it easier to place an order — or for us to take in an order — we’re interested in,” Catalano said. “We want to watch and adapt to what customers are asking for and what our business needs — like we did when we created the app — as we look to add more value and technology to improve the experience for consumers.”
With benefits for consumers and corporations, it appears mobile order-ahead technology could be the solution not just for Five Guys, but for any restaurant looking to compete against Burger King, McDonald’s or the rest of the combatants in the crowded burger battleground.
The mobile order revolution may only just be beginning.
To download the May edition of the PYMNTS.com 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.