Technology To Go
Hospitality Technology, April 2005
by Vicki Powers
Trends in the restaurant industry reveal a growing consumer demand for take-out/to-go options from casual dining and fast-food establishments; a market that accounted for 58 percent of total restaurant traffic in 2001, according to the National Restaurant Association. From wireless networks to online ordering, technology continues to play a critical role in meeting customer expectations for greater efficiency and speed.
While dedicated curbside take-out is not a new option in the casual dining restaurant market, Woodland Group Inc.—owner of 21 Applebee's locations in middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky—continually adds innovation to the mix to achieve faster service for more satisfied customers. With color cameras to identify to-go customers' cars, a comprehensive database to store customer information, and wireless-to-go in the works, these Applebee's locations are set for success.
John Lynn, senior manager of information systems at Woodland Group, retrofitted his restaurants with a specific to-go center March 2004. This encompassed adding monitors and color cameras, moving POS equipment around, and installing equipment to accommodate new areas. The system, however, relied on paper to record the customer's name and phone number, as well as the make and color of their car-elements required for curbside service.
Now Lynn is upgrading his Squirrel POS system (squirrelsystems.com) to a Windows-based Squirrel system that provides a number of new features. Since December 2004, Woodland Group has been upgrading two restaurants a month with all new PCs, terminals and software. One of the biggest advantages is its carryout/delivery feature to capture guest information.
"That's been a huge piece for us because we can capture the information electronically and run reports on that," Lynn relates. "Our goal is, once the customer pulls up, we're out to the car in under a minute to greet the guest and acknowledge they are there. If the timing works out well, we'll be out there with the food."
Capturing and storing guest information proves especially helpful since about 60 percent of Applebee's carside sales are return visits. Employees on the phone with customers can see a customer's frequency, last order, and their average spend. Cameras outside capture a customer's vehicle model and color for accurate carside delivery.
The 21 restaurants in the Woodland Group franchise average approximately $75,000 in carside sales per week, which represents about 5 percent to 17 percent of each location's total sales. Woodland is currently testing a new wireless handheld device that is fully integrated with its POS system. This will enable the carside specialist to deliver the customer's food, settle the bill with a wireless belt printer, and never leave the customer's vehicle. Lynn says the restaurants are trying to reduce service times, and he expects to cut the pick-up exchange by a minute or two using the carside handheld unit.
It's all about multi-tasking for drive-thru employees, and there is a limit to how much can be done accurately and efficiently. Hardee's is testing this concept to the extreme by routing its drive-thru orders in St. Louis to a processing center nearly 2,000 miles away."Technology has always played an important role in the drive thru because of the very nature of the delivery channel," says Jeff Chasney, CIO and executive vice president at CKE Restaurants, operator of more than 2,000 quick-service restaurants, including Hardee's and Carl's Jr. "Now it's just getting more elaborate."
Hardee's added remote order testing to its "menu" in December 2004 with five St. Louis locations and added its last five in March. Drive-thru customers place orders at the drive-thru menu board in St. Louis, which is processed using high-speed DSL, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and by employees in Anaheim, California, two times zones away. Chasney says the organization developed electronic solutions paired with minor development to create this eloquent solution.
Hardee's impetus for remote ordering, according to Chasney, is quite different from its competitors who are looking to improve speed and sales through upsales. Hardee's is strictly looking to improve order accuracy. Chasney believes, however, that improved speed will naturally occur as the process removes one function currently completed by drive-thru employees who juggle taking orders, pouring drinks, bagging items, and tending the order. Hardee's also expects to achieve labor savings in the stores once it's rolled out to more and more locations.
A Burger King franchise located in a high-profile business district in lower Manhattan is using the Web to cater to its area business lunch traffic. The tiny 1,200 sq. ft. establishment—a lunch-time favorite for more than 20 years—added the Maitre'D by Posera MealZone (maitredpos.com) solution in February 2004 to improve customer service. These lunch customers order online and pick it up in person. Powered by TransBoundaries Interactive Restaurant Ordering System (transboundaries.com), the system sends the online orders directly to the restaurant's kitchen printer. Customers receive confirmation e-mails when orders are placed and ready for customer pick up.
John Young, managing director and owner of the franchise, says online orders average $8 to $10, while in-store orders average just above $4. Group orders, dessert purchases, and upgraded orders all contribute to the increased totals. The franchise receives many positive comments from customers about the idea of ordering online, which results in a steady 4 percent growth each month.
By nearly all accounts the market for take-out dining is only beginning to take off. According to the 7th Annual Restaurant Industry Technology Study, Driving Restaurant Productivity, take-out and delivery functionality is now considered one of the top POS functions across the entire industry. As more restaurants explore options ranging from online ordering to remote call centers to improved drive-thru efficiency, take-out, drive-thru and delivery traffic will only increase.