The mobile order-ahead bandwagon is getting more crowded by the day. With the market on track to be worth $55 billion by 2022, restaurants large and small are increasingly looking to cut themselves a larger slice of the mobile ordering pie.
While some late adopters may have missed their chances to make it across the mobile order-ahead finish line first, some did so intentionally.
The team at Slim Chickens was one such group waiting for the dust to settle. In a recent interview with PYMNTS, founder Greg Smart explained why his Midwest-based QSR chain waited to invest in mobile-order ahead infrastructure.
“At first, it was just the big national chains offering it, but eventually, as we saw smaller concepts and companies roll it out, we realized it was something that could be practical for us — even though money is a bit tight,” Smart explained.
After much thought and analysis, Slim Chickens changed its tune. The company debuted its first mobile and online ordering solution at all 65 of its locations throughout the South and Midwest earlier this month.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
While demand for mobile order-ahead was initially limited to a small group of tech-savvy Slim Chickens guests, the company eventually saw a growing number of customers requesting it — and frequently.
“At first, people weren’t really demanding it, just asking about it or if we could ever see ourselves offering it, so we didn’t feel like there was a huge demand for it,” Smart said. “But we saw other concepts have success with it and, with the rise in social media — where we can really engage with our customers more directly and they can have a better voice — we started to see that it could be a really good decision for us and our guests.”
Soon, the demand wasn’t just coming from in-store and Twitter-friendly customers, but also from franchise locations.
“We had a few franchisees asking us about it, and when we asked more of them if it was something they would like to see implemented by Slim Chickens, the answer became a resounding ‘yes,’” Smart noted.
At that point, the team decided to invest in enabling its “Slimthusiast” customers’ long-requested mobile order-ahead capabilities both online and in-app.
Accepting payments, filling orders and rewarding guests
The company began working to build its online and mobile order ahead system in 2016. According to Smart, its first focus was on identifying the key capabilities it wanted to offer in its initial online ordering foray.
After settling on the features that could provide desktop and mobile ordering along with a loyalty program, Slim Chickens met with more than a dozen solution providers. The team eventually decided to work with online ordering technology developer Olo and loyalty and marketing software provider Punchh.
Slim Chickens slowly rolled out its joint platform to customers at roughly a year into the process, first via a trial at 35 restaurants that took place late last year.
“We ran the system in those locations for several weeks to work out the kinks, got through the tests, figured out what worked and adjusted our operations,” Smart said. “Then we started figuring out how long it would take and what it would take to add our full 65 restaurants to the system.”
Customers can now place orders via desktop or mobile either as a guest or with their Slim Chickens loyalty accounts. No matter how a guest places his order, though, the solution allows him to choose and customize his food and drinks, pay via debit or credit card and set a time for pick-up. Customers who sign in get rewarded with points for purchases via the company’s loyalty program, receiving free food items and drinks when they reach certain milestones.
Smart said the company emphasized a speedy and convenient experience for guests as it went about developing its order-ahead platform. Customers pick up their online and mobile orders from a holding area in the front of their chosen restaurant locations, and can complete the pick-up process in a matter of seconds.
“When a customer walks in, we’ll obviously say hello or greet them and answer any questions,” he explained, “but there’s no transaction in the restaurant, so customers can get right in and right out.”
Phase II and beyond
While the company’s mobile online ordering capabilities are still in their infancy, Smart said it is already seeing changes in customer behavior.
Customers typically place larger orders via the ordering portal than they do when ordering in-person, and spend more money as well. Why it happens, Smart isn’t sure, though he did wonder if not having to deal with a human employee allowed users to order to their hearts’ content.
Those observations align with what’s happening around the industry. A Deloitte survey found customers visit fast food restaurants six times more often and spend roughly 20 percent more when using technology to place an order. While those increased revenues continue to roll in, Slim Chickens is already planning for the future.
Smart and his team are working on what he called “Phase II” of the app’s development. That includes accepting mobile wallets and other modern payment methods, along with the addition of beacon technology to help employees and franchisees know exactly when a customer is approaching a Slim Chickens location.
With happy customers bringing in larger revenue streams and plans in the works for Phase II, it seems Slim Chickens is firmly entrenched in its seat on the mobile order-ahead bandwagon. Perhaps it won’t be too long before even the stubbornest mobile ordering holdouts have climbed on board as well.