How &pizza Serves Up A Secure Mobile Ordering Experience


Quick-service restaurants rely on slick apps and generous rewards programs to get customers in the door. But no matter the incentives, a customer who gets their identity stolen through the QSR’s app isn’t coming back for a second visit. In the latest Mobile Order-Ahead Tracker, Kevin Blesy, &pizza’s head of strategy, discusses how the chain has worked to secure users’ information while providing a smooth ordering experience.

Washington, D.C.-based fast-casual pizzeria &pizza is well-known for its quirks. Its pizzas are oblong ellipses rather than traditional circles, for example, and it gave away 30,000 free pies to furloughed government workers during the shutdown earlier this year. It also turned a Georgetown student caught on camera scarfing one of its pies during a Congressional hearing into a February 2019 marketing campaign.

The brand wanted to convey that freewheeling attitude through its mobile order-ahead app, a revamped version of which launched just a few weeks ago.

Developing a UI for a Big Pizza Pie

Although &pizza provided a third-party, white-label app for several years, the key impetus for switching to an in-house offering was recreating the in-store experience the chain had worked to cultivate.

“I don’t think you want a guest to have a really unique and interesting experience in person and then feel like they’re talking to some corporation on the digital ordering side,” said Kevin Blesy, head of strategy for &pizza.

The app’s design reflects &pizza’s dedication to the shared experience, featuring the same stark black-and-white aesthetic as its décor and pizza boxes. House special combos are called “the hits” and carry idiosyncratic names like “Gnarlic” and “Farmer’s Daughter.”

Bringing that attitude to the revamped rewards system was a key priority, as well.

“We used to just have a digital punch card,” Blesy explained. “You spend X amount of dollars, and that gives you Y dollars off your next purchase. It certainly worked in that it got people excited about coming back more frequently, but we really wanted to democratize our loyalty and rewards program and open it up a bit.”

To accomplish that, &pizza switched to a points-based system, allowing it to gamify the rewards experience.

“There’s something more interesting about that gamified solution of running up your points total as opposed to counting the dollars that you spent,” Blesy said. “If you’ve accumulated 300 points that are good toward a free soda, you can use those points for a free soda today. Or, if you want to save those up and hoard them all for a pizza party where you’re getting four or five pies, you can do that, too.”

Adding enjoyment to the experience was also a consideration.

“It also allows us to have a little bit of fun as well,” he said. “If it’s a gloomy day up in Boston, [we] can drop 150 points into every guest’s account in our Boston market.”

Securing the Slice

While free points might bring customers through the door on rainy days, no amount of rewards can recover those who have had their identities stolen through a company’s app. Security was paramount in &pizza’s app redesign, and the firm found that teamwork was the best defense to provide it. It utilized the same cloud-based point-of-sale system present at all of its physical locations to handle all in-app transactions, and partnered with Stripe for payment processing.

“None of the card data ever resides with &pizza,” Blesy explained. “We do the right vetting upfront before we put something as important as payment processing in the hands of a third-party.”

Managing hackers and fraudsters is only half of the security equation, though. Bad actors can impersonate paying customers or claim fraudulent chargebacks, robbing restaurants blind. &pizza relies on exhaustive data analytics and integration to counter them.

“We can see in a single pane all the order details and history associated with [a customer] and can verify whether an order was made or not,” Blesy said. “When you think about restaurant technology, it’s probably more disparate than technology in a lot of other industries in terms of the number of systems that don’t talk to each other well. We’ve made a concerted effort to make that integration so that folks on our side aren’t jumping between six or seven different platforms to try to understand if someone’s being truthful or not.”

What’s in the Oven?

While &pizza has sought to optimize the user experience on its app while keeping a tight lid on security, Blesy has some concerns about the future of mobile ordering — particularly when it comes to the sheer quantity of apps on the market.

“At some point, guests aren’t going to have 30 restaurant apps on their phones and use them consistently,” he explained. “I think there’s a need to bring digital ordering outside the bounds of mobile apps and bring it closer to how people interact digitally on a day-to-day basis.”

For &pizza, the solution to that problem is an SMS-based ordering system that’s currently in development and powered by an artificial intelligence (AI) with smart language processing capabilities. Each restaurant will have to find its own way to cut through the noise, though, as mobile order-ahead apps become more popular.