Consumer Mobile Apps: Know Your Triggers

By : Jon Lawrence

July 06, 2015 04:24 PM

With a shift in consumer expectations that seek to control more of the overall dining experience, restaurants that are planning to implement mobile ordering as an element of their consumer engagement strategy have a number of

factors to consider.


Among the challenges that can affect both the guest and the staff is the method used to trigger or “fire” a mobile order to the kitchen. As a guest in a Quick Service or Fast Casual restaurant, you don’t want an order to be prepped and waiting too long before you arrive.


Likewise, if the kitchen does not prep it soon enough, the guest may see diminished value from the engagement opportunity because they had to wait – or perceive they had to wait longer than they would if they ordered at the counter. Restaurant operators face challenges as well.


One of the biggest challenges is a change in the volume and timing of orders fired to the kitchen. Today, when guests order at the counter, the flow of orders to the kitchen are essentially throttled by the number of cashiers and their overall productivity. When the guest has the opportunity to essentially communicate directly with the kitchen through a mobile consumer engagement platform, that “throttle” of the traditional ordering process is less effective.


As we look across the industry, restaurants are testing different options for consumers who place orders using their mobile device – some methods that enable guests to have full control when they arrive by “checking in”. Other approaches allow the guest to select a time in the future when they plan to arrive. Chipotle, for example, presents mobile ordering guests with a selection of available time windows when the order will be ready.


Other concepts such as Panera allows the guest to specify a time when they will arrive. Each of these approaches can provide the guest with a certain level of engagement on their terms while still enabling a level of predictability for restaurant operations. While the above examples leverage the use of a specific time when the guest is expected to arrive as the trigger, we also see brands providing guests with what might be described as a remote control, which serves as a trigger to connect the guest to the kitchen.


One variation of this approach leverages proximity or geo-location with Bluetooth beacons. An implementation that utilizes such technology allows guests to place an order from a mobile device for future pick-up. However, when the guest approaches a designated location at the restaurant where the order was placed, the customer’s order is fired to the kitchen based where he or she is physically located on the restaurant premises.


This automated ‘check-in’ can create a seamless experience for the guest, where they might see their name on a customer display when they enter the restaurant. A variation on this check-in model can allow a guest to check-in manually from the mobile app. Such an approach might provide the guest with a button or an option to check in through a notification. By tapping the check-in feature, the guest essentially taps a button that becomes the trigger to the kitchen that he or she has arrived and the food can now be prepared.


If you’ve used Chick-fil-A’s mobile app, you have experienced what it is like to carry a remote control for their restaurant and as a guest, interact with the restaurant on your terms. With shipments of wearable devices growing massively quarter over quarter, it’s interesting to consider what’s next in terms of guest-driven triggers for those who order ahead at restaurants.


The Takeaway:


Of course, with any of the above strategies, operators will need to determine how to best support both a growing volume of new triggers, and approaches for those triggers, from mobile orders.   For some brands, it might be consideration of a dedicated ‘make line’.


Others might look to improved technology and systems to manage the kitchen production. With new opportunities for guest engagement comes the challenges associated with the implementation within your specific brand.


As a solution provider, we seek to partner with our customers to find the best approach to address these challenges and help them capitalize on the new opportunities enabled through mobile consumer engagement.  


Keep any eye out next week where we discuss Kitchen Management.

Jon Lawrence

Sr. Dir., NCR Hospitality Solution Mngt and Product Marketing

Other articles by this author

Jon has been designing and delivering technology solutions for two decades. At NCR, he helps define, develop, and market solutions to restaurant operators across the globe. In this blog series, Jon shares his insights on consumer mobile apps for restaurants.