With Online Ordering, Your Cashiers Can No Longer Cover For You

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

“You're just putting lipstick on a pig.” I love that saying. In fact, it was my first thought when we started looking at implementing online ordering for our brands.

What many restaurant chains don’t realize, however, is that by implementing online ordering, they are exposing their menu system to consumers for the first time. This may not seem like a big deal. But in all the concepts that I have worked on over the years, the actual menu architecture has been both very flawed and typically “covered up” by the restaurant’s crew, who knows how to work around its challenges.

Just one small example: I had a large group of restaurants use the “No – Add Ketchup” modifier for about 3 years. The crew understood this to mean “No Ketchup.” A customer, meanwhile, would look at the receipt and say, “But I don’t want any ketchup!”

Such a system obviously can’t be unleashed on the Internet. Consumers will not tolerate a system that is difficult to use. And it’s exactly why I won’t order a pizza online from Papa John’s. For chains, the challenges often come from tracking data in one way while marketing/selling it in another. A good example is “combo” meals. (“What product[s] is the combo discount being applied to?”)

Add to that the complexity of each franchisee having unique, local store marketing offers and the responsibility for its own pricing, and what seems very simple can quickly become very complex.

The benefits of implementing a solid online ordering solution can be huge. At the recent FS/TEC conference, several IT leaders indicated that their online ordering had average guest checks that were 30 to 70 percent higher than the in-store counterparts. That means the stakes for getting such a system right are very high.

Even if your current POS menu is a beautiful piece of art, at a minimum it means that your POS team has yet another menu to update whenever a new marketing window or change comes along. So now the team has to update the current POS menu, the menu on the two legacy POS platforms and the online ordering system. Stop laughing. I can dream of a day with only two legacy platforms.

It also means that 86ing an item becomes far more formal than many restaurants are used to. Someone had better remember to update the Web site, or you are bound to have an upset customer.

The ultimate solution is to integrate the POS database menu and the online ordering menu with one master database/menu. That way, the menu administrator simply adds the new item to a master system and it automatically replicates to the appropriate POS platform on the correct panel and populates online in the right way. Further, if the restaurant inventory is integrated with the online ordering system, it automatically 86s products as they are depleted, or close to depleted, from inventory.

Sorry, I was daydreaming again. What was I saying?

Until that “dream day” comes, when implementing your online ordering system, I recommend the following activities:

  • Take the time to do a “spring cleaning” on your PLUs. Sometimes, they can be hard to get rid of. Take this opportunity to remove items that are no longer in use and aren’t expected to be.
  • Build a solid process that ensures the online menu is updated at the same time as the POS menu. This approach is especially important if your online ordering provider manages your online menu. Protect yourself from Software-As-A-Service Side Effects.
  • Take a hard look at your modifiers and make sure they still fit the current menu. Just like PLUs, modifiers can sometimes hang around past their useful life.
  • Use the online ordering implementation as an excuse to reconcile your coupons, discounts and promotions. Depending on how strictly your organization has managed these items in the past, you may find a lot of duplicates and overlap.
  • Consider crowd-sourcing your menu to the crew, both POS and online.
  • Might as well go ahead and get yourself a Homewrecker to get you through all this tough work.

In short, you really don't ever want to put lipstick on a pig, even if your system thinks it's barbecue sauce on spareribs.

What do you think? Love it or hate it, I’d love to gain some additional perspectives. Leave a comment, or E-mail me at [email protected].