Digital Food Ordering Is Changing the Restaurant Industry, From the Outside In

Digital Food Ordering

The rise in digital ordering is transforming menus. Off-premises-friendly foods are surging in popularity, while those that are more difficult to transport are taking a hit. Restaurants are adding menu items such as grain bowls and chicken sandwiches, hoping to woo these online customers.

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Last month, fast-casual chain BurgerFi, the Florida-based operator of around 120 restaurants in the U.S. and abroad, announced the acquisition of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza & Wings, a 61-location chain also based in Florida, for $156.6 million. The acquisition plays into BurgerFi’s overall digital strategy across first- and third-party platforms.

“If a customer wants to order on a [third-party delivery marketplace’s] platform, we certainly welcome the business and hope to convert them to a loyal customer,” Karl Goodhew, chief technology officer at BurgerFi, told PYMNTS in an interview. “We believe that meeting the customer where they want to meet and allowing them to pay whichever way they want to pay solves a good portion of customer friction.”

Sure enough, a large portion of consumers is looking for more flexible payment options. According to data from PYMNTS’ 2021 Restaurant Readiness Index, created in collaboration with Paytronix, about half of all consumers believe that offering the ability to pay online will be important to restaurants’ success, and 27% say the same of the ability to pay with card on file, 25% of the ability to pay in-store with contactless cards, 21% of the ability to pay with digital wallets and 14% of the ability to pay with QR codes. The study also found that 16% of restaurants’ sales are now generated through third-party aggregators, while 10% come through restaurants’ own online-delivery ordering platforms.

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For BurgerFi’s part, digital orders made up 37% of systemwide sales in the third quarter of 2021, the company announced on Nov. 11. However, digital sales fell 4% from the third quarter of 2021.

Getting Ghosted

BurgerFi highlighted Anthony’s “The Roasted Wing” virtual concept and its overall focus on non-traditional restaurant formats. Additionally, the burger chain operates 15 of its own ghost kitchens.

“Our ghost kitchen strategy is two-pronged — supplementing markets where we already have a presence with additional outlets, such as in South Florida and Atlanta, and also introducing our brand to new markets to see how consumers react and grow organically,” said Goodhew.

He noted that in both cases, the company’s delivery-only locations have the potential to attract new customers and drive awareness in their markets. By investing in delivery favorites such as pizza and chicken wings, the brand can increase these benefits. “Having delivery-friendly food certainly extends the delivery radius beyond where we might reach customers today,” he said.

In fact, according to data from PYMNTS’ How We Eat Playbook, created in collaboration with Carat from Fiserv, consumers now are 31% more likely to buy meals to be eaten at home than they are to dine at restaurants. Additionally, the study found that 43% of consumers are now ordering online for delivery more often than they were prior to the start of the pandemic, and 48% are ordering more often for pickup.

See also: Up for Grabs: Restaurants and Grocers See Path to Picking up 200M New Customers

Rethinking Restaurants’ User Experience

To help cope with continued U.S. labor shortages, the company is looking to refine the user its digital experience for restaurant employees and delivery drivers in addition to customers.

Innovation in the restaurant industry typically happens much more quickly for the consumer-facing parts of the business than for internal systems. A given restaurant may have streamlined digital ordering platforms, but still be managing its vendor payments with pen-and-paper accounting. Now, as labor grows more expensive and more difficult to come by, easy-to-use digital tools can help restaurants make the most of their existing employees.

“From a technology perspective, this means focusing on the user and making it as simple as possible,” said Goodhew. “The user might be the store employee, customer or delivery driver, and they might want to eat in the store, at home or on the road.”

Down the Line

Given these labor constraints, Goodhew noted that the company is looking toward new automated solutions in both the front and back of the house. He noted that the brand is looking to upgrade its kiosk ordering, integrate order- and pay-at-the-table capabilities, implement robotics in its dining rooms and try out new technologies to assist in food production.

“We continue to see headwinds with supply chain, employee availability and inflation,” Goodhew said. “Each on its own is a reasonable problem, but they’re all happening at the same time — which causes a lot of late nights and creativity to solve the problems.”