With social distancing and lockdown mandates continuing to keep patrons from frequenting brick-and-mortar quick-service restaurant (QSR) locations, consumers are turning to a variety of channels to place their orders quickly and conveniently. This has led to orders placed via digital channels soaring to record levels — a trend that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Meal delivery orders placed through the end of June more than doubled year over year, for example. Third-party meal delivery providers such as DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub saw their order volumes skyrocket, with sales increasing by 45 percent, 24 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
These are trends that QSR chains across the U.S. are observing firsthand. American fast-casual restaurant chain Portillo’s — known for its Chicago-style hot dogs, chargrilled burgers and famous chocolate cake — is one such player. The QSR has seen positive results from its delivery business, which has more than doubled since the pandemic’s onset.
“While the entire restaurant industry saw a dip as COVID-19 came on, we have seen a rebound, with sales steadily recovering,” said Eric Bevins, director of operations services for the Oakbrook, Illinois-based chain, which has 62 locations in seven states. Those sales came through a variety of ordering channels, including the company’s website, its in-house mobile ordering app and third-party delivery platforms.
Ghost Kitchen Launch Relieves Delivery Pressure
Portillo’s and other QSRs are looking to team up with strategic ghost kitchen partners to meet the increase in digital and mobile ordering. Portillo’s announced plans in June to partner with ghost kitchen firm Kitchen United to launch a ghost kitchen, which went live on Aug. 3, Bevins said.
“We are very excited about it and its potential, and the early tests have gone very well,” he said. “We have a very steady delivery business, currently driven by third-party delivery out of our Chicago locations, so this will help ease some of that delivery pressure for the restaurants as well as allow us to have a facility and team dedicated exclusively to off-premises business throughout the day.”
Portillo’s entered the delivery business in a partnership with DoorDash about four years ago and was initially uncertain about investing in the service, Bevins said.
“It was a no-nonsense way for us to get into the delivery business,” Bevins added.
But with the growth in demand for online delivery over the past six months, the company decided to roll out its own delivery program last month and will soon use its own drivers to bring its Chicago-style menu selections ordered through its website or app to customers’ doorsteps.
All the chain’s locations, along with the new ghost kitchen website, will also continue to accept mobile orders placed via third-party delivery apps, Bevins said.
Offering An End-to-end Experience
QSRs’ ability to remain competitive depends more than ever on keeping up with customers’ preferred ways of interacting with restaurants. That means enabling a seamless ordering experience not just on mobile but also across other customer touchpoints, such as the company’s website or third-party apps. Portillo’s has aimed to deliver on that by offering app features that allow guests to find their nearest locations, learn more about the brand and, importantly, peruse the menu and directly order meals for pickup or delivery. The company also plans to roll out another update to its app and website that would improve on its guests’ experiences in larger catering orders. Catering is currently integrated with the rest of the ordering features, but Portillo’s website and app update will create an even more user-friendly menu that will help guide guests on the types of catering options for their groups, Bevins explained.
Portillo’s has sought to offer a uniformly convenient experience across the board while also seeking to differentiate its ordering process on its channels by unlocking unique offerings for its customers. The company’s app and website, for example, are the only places where customers can see and order limited-time offers such as its current lemon cake, lemon cake shake and strawberry lemon cake shake. They also provide guests the lowest prices and birthday rewards, among other offerings.
Providing A Safe And Seamless Customer Experience
Consumers’ growing affinity for ordering through websites and mobile apps, however, also makes them susceptible to fraud. A recent report found that the total number of mobile device attacks had risen by 117 percent in the past year. Finding ways to offer the speed and convenience of mobile apps while protecting consumers from fraud is an ongoing challenge for restaurants. This has meant that QSRs such as Portillo’s must continuously update their security systems to guard against new threats.
Portillo’s also utilizes a cloud-delivered endpoint protection platform to safeguard both its employees and its guests against nefarious actors, according to Portillo’s Senior Vice President of IT Rick Cook. Others in the industry are employing artificial intelligence- (AI) and machine learning- (ML) driven technology for fraud prevention. Such technology can operate in the background without disturbing a customer’s transactions, thus allowing QSRs to take a proactive approach to fighting fraud.
Ensuring the security of all pickup and delivery options is critical for QSRs, especially during the ongoing health crisis, to maintain customer confidence and trust. Restaurants that can ensure a seamless customer journey while keeping their guests safe and secure will remain on the leading edge.