The digital revolution has unquestionably disrupted the food service industry. Consumers today are flocking to online restaurant ordering sites and food brand e-commerce portals. They regularly peruse menus online before deciding whether or not to try a particular eatery. They review—and read crowd-sourced reviews—on Yelp.
Internet-based food delivery services will bring users meals from any restaurants within their specified service areas. Customers can have food delivered even from restaurants that do not offer their own delivery service; they can even mix and match items from several restaurants, resulting in a highly customized in-home dining experience.
So what about established restaurants and food brands that fail to embrace the digital revolution? Are they being left behind by younger, tech-savvy concerns? According to Fast Casual's Ed Zimmerman, the answer is yes, they most certainly are.
The Pizza Industry: Successful Tech Integration, Any Way You Slice It
Perhaps no restaurant genre is more dependent upon the in-home delivery customer than the pizza industry. Many chains, including Papa John's, Domino's and Cincinnati's local chain LaRosa's have willingly embraced centralized and digital ordering as a way to meet consumers' convenience demands and to increase efficiency.
LaRosa's, for example, was an industry pioneer in the development of call center ordering. In the 1990s, it moved away from store-based order taking and launched its "One Number for Pizza," (513) 347-1111, through which customers could place an order for any store across the chain. Call center agents would direct the order to the appropriate store based on a digitized database of street addresses or place a pick-up order at any store the customer specified.
The experiment was a resounding success. And even now, decades later, LaRosa's has continued to surf the crest of ordering innovation. The call center still exists, but the chain now emphasizes online and mobile-based ordering on an incredibly user-friendly interface.
LaRosa's site allows users to customize their orders in ways that even many regular LaRosa's customers did not heretofore realize they could. Pickles on your pizza? Check. Add sliced mushrooms to your garden salad? Double check.
And they're not the only ones helping consumers to customize their experiences. Toppers Pizza, Domino's, Papa John's, other national brands and even many local stores are onboard. Special instructions? "I'd like someone to draw a unicorn on my pizza box lid, please." HERE YOU GO, OLD SPORT. How now, pizza fan? How. Now.
Embracing Digitization Doesn't Mean Abandoning Your Legacy Systems
Indeed, there are plenty of customers out there—even the rare Luddite Millennial can be found in the wild—who prefer older methods of customer interaction. Some even prefer (gasp) personal contact with an actual human being.
Digital integration, argues Zimmerman, should be seen as a way to add value to some customers' experience—and to augment your efficiency so that you can faster serve those customers who are averse to all that electronic wizardry.
"That’s not to say that these same customers do not want to interface with a real person when they place an order or have a complaint," he wrote. "Many customers still prefer the old-fashioned method because they trust it and because they prefer the human touch. You do not want to substitute the technology for personal service; just learn to incorporate it as part of your overall messaging and marketing."
Those Who Fail To Evolve...
Is digital innovation going to replace your legacy systems? Gosh, no. Well, not yet. But if you're not utilizing digital technologies to extend your marketing, grab market share and serve the Millennial market, your legacy systems won't save you. You're going to lose out to competitors who do.
Food branding and digital marketing are a natural partnership, as the gratuitous "food porn" craze has made abundantly clear. But some food brands have failed to realize the potential of digitization as an operational efficiency. If you're one of the ones lagging behind, you have some catching up to do—a lot of catching up.