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National Restaurant Association - Technology that puts the ‘fast’ into fast casual

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Technology that puts the ‘fast’ into fast casual

According to NRA research, roughly one-quarter of consumers say technology options are important features that factor into their decision to choose a restaurant. This is up from the nearly one-fifth the prior year that said the same, underscoring that technology rapidly is becoming an expectation rather than a novelty when dining out.  See how three fast casual restaurants plug into technology to speed up and improve service.  


   Wow Bao ordering kiosks

Wow Bao: Kiosk ordering
It’s lunch hour in the Windy City, where time-pressed office workers head to Wow Bao for a quick bite. Even if there’s a line at the counter, they know they can order at a kiosk and get their food within a few minutes. The restaurant specializes in Asian fare, including bao — hot, doughy buns stuffed with meats and/or vegetables. Kiosk ordering is offered at all five Chicagoland Wow Bao locations.

When Wow Bao President Geoff Alexander introduced kiosk ordering in 2009, he expected it to speed the ordering process without increasing labor costs. The happy surprise was that kiosk ordering also upped check sizes. Depending on the unit, the check average increased from 89 cents to $1.49 more at kiosks. The reason? The kiosks are programmed to upsell. “With every item that you order, the kiosk asks whether you want to make it a combo and whether you want to add a drink,” said Alexander.

Today’s consumers crave customized items, so they love the control kiosks give to order exactly what they want, he adds. Plus, staff doesn’t have to worry about making mistakes when entering orders. Alexander acknowledges that the technology comes with its own headaches, including occasional crashes (which he says are few and far between). 

Wow Bao received its return on the kiosk investment in eight months because of the higher check averages and labor savings. “I don’t understand why more restaurants aren’t using kiosks,” Alexander said.


   Boloco app

Boloco: A loyalty app
One Boloco customer loves the restaurant’s cajun burrito; another prefers its Bangkok Thai bowl. Likewise, consumers want a range of ordering methods to meet their preferences. An office worker sitting computer-side might prefer online ordering; college students on the run order via the app; and a retired baby boomer is happy to order at the counter.

More than half of Boloco’s 20 units feature kiosk ordering. “It’s all about having what’s most convenient for each guest,” says Alexandra Dunk, director of marketing at the time of this interview for the Boston-based chain, which specializes in globally inspired burritos.

The challenge: how to integrate all the ordering options seamlessly with a loyalty program. The solution: Boloco ditched its plastic rewards card and launched its Passport loyalty app in 2015. Guests register their biographical and credit/debit card information. They use the app, powered by Boston-based LevelUp, to order and pay ahead from a mobile device or for payment in-store at an iPad kiosk or at the counter. They can also use their same log-in information to order and pay online at boloco.com. Guests automatically earn and redeem reward dollars when paying with the Passport app, which displays an encrypted QR code for payment. Guests who don’t have access to the app can pick up a QR code sticker at a Boloco unit and register it online.

“Paying in the store is now superfast and convenient,” Dunk said. “All you need is your phone.” Boloco also sped up mobile ordering by improving the menu’s loading time with the help of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania-based Zuppler.

With some customers resisting registering a credit or debit card with the app, Boloco is educating guests about security measures. “The card information is tokenized,” explained Dunk. “We at Boloco never actually see the information and neither can LevelUp.”


  Panera 2.0 app

Panera: Version 2.0
This fast casual giant is introducing a series of integrated technologies coined “Panera 2.0.” It aims to reduce wait times, improve order accuracy, and minimize or eliminate crowding; and create a more personalized experience,” Chairman and CEO Ron Shaich says.

As a first step, St. Louis-based Panera Bread launched an advanced ordering system for to-go orders. It lets customer place and pay for online/mobile orders, which they pick up at a designated spot in the restaurant.

Panera is rolling out an option that enables dine-in guests to place an online or mobile order from their table and have their meal delivered directly to them. The café is adding ordering kiosks in addition to cashier stations to reduce wait times. Guests who order from cashiers or kiosks will have their meals delivered to their tables by an associate using an electronic table locator.

Customization should be easier because kiosk, mobile and web ordering will store purchase history. So, guests who prefer their tuna sandwich with onions, but no tomatoes, won’t have to remember to make the request each time. The company, which operates more than 1,800 bakery-cafes under the names of Panera Bread, Saint Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Café, expects the 2.0 technology to be in substantially all its units by 2017.

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