David Grossman has long wanted people to place orders at his store before they arrived, even before the technology existed to enable this to happen.
"I created a card that I would put on every order ticket that said 'skip the line and order online,' " said Grossman, who has worked for Freshii, opening stores in the Chicago area and Twin Cities. He also owns a handful of his Freshii locations in Chicago as a franchisee.
The rudimentary email pre-orders at Grossman's stores were helpful, but limiting in that it still focused on a one-on-one interaction with the customer. Grossman has since implemented technology that allows multiple customers to submit a single order, such as when buying a takeout lunch with coworkers.
Grossman is an early adopter of Ritual's order-ahead app, and in two years adoption has grown to 10% of the business at his franchises. Ritual is deployed at Freshii on a store-by-store basis.
Each location handles about 700 orders per day, so Grossman said it has been helpful to have mobile ordering take care of a chunk of its volume.
Ritual supports about 1,600 eateries in Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto and elsewhere. The app is a multiplier of sorts, since it targets group ordering from offices near the eateries. Merchants access Ritual's social feature, Piggyback, which enables co-workers to "hop into" the order, which a single co-worker can pick up.
The market for mobile ordering is increasingly competitive.
Mobile payment company LevelUp recently launched an order-ahead app called Broadcast in partnership with the digital marketing company Onosys and the online ordering platform LuvJo. The service connects restaurants to Facebook Yelp, Foursquare, OEM payment apps and other providers to streamline mobile ordering and payment.
"Mobile point of sale has to become more functionally rich as certain features become table stakes," said Gareth Lodge, a senior analyst at Celent. "[Order ahead] is similar. Once the mobile app has tackled the payment part, with the winners excelling on the customer experience, then it feels natural to add other features that also improve the customer experience — particularly on the time for collection."
Ritual has elements of social payment apps like Venmo, at least from the consumer's perspective. The users pay individually through the app, but the merchant sees it as a single order.
"It's kind of like Uber — you order on the phone with a card that you have on file that collects the payment and remits it to the merchant after the fact," said Ray Reddy, a co-founder and CEO of Ritual.
The app tracks ordering and user tendencies and creates marketing programs, after-hours dinner and corporate programs to entice employers to adopt the service for their office. The merchants pay a fee for consumers that Ritual onboards; the consumers don't pay a fee.
"It's more than ordering ahead, it's like an in-store order," Reddy said. "It can be awkward and cumbersome for one person to go around an office and pick up money for an order."