App or text? Restaurants still sampling mobile ordering technologies

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More restaurants are adding text and voice-based capabilities to give on-the-go customers ordering options.

Domino's, Pizza Hut, Grubhub and Wingstop are among the early adopters of technologies such as SMS, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Alexa or Google Home to meet the fast-paced ordering needs of busy consumers. Payment is typically handled with credit or debit card information that’s already on file, which minimizes security concerns that could be associated with payment information sent over SMS or through a voice-controlled system.

While apps are still a popular way for customers to order and pay, these other options are emerging, primarily because they're a natural fit for restaurant patrons, many of whom are already heavy users of text, social media and voice technology.
It’s only a matter of time before text and voice-based ordering technologies become more pervasive, especially as artificial intelligence technology improves, said Zach Goldstein, founder and chief executive of Thanx, a San Francisco-based company that provides customer engagement and retention tools for restaurants and retailers.

At this point there’s no clear winner among text, social media messaging and voice, though some providers that started with a text-based approach have switched their focus to voice. Meanwhile, Amazon, Google and Apple are all investing in voice solutions. A partnership announced last year between LevelUp and Orderscape is aimed at bringing voice-activated chatbots to restaurants across the U.S.

Some restaurants have adopted several different ordering methods so customers can choose what works best for them. Major chains have been leading the way in this respect.

Domino's, for example, has offered text ordering since 2015 and supports several other options including Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, smartwatches and more. Some of these platforms allow ordering of a customer’s saved favorites or their last order, while others allow for full menu ordering, according to a company spokeswoman. Customers must first create a pizza profile, which includes their payment information, address and a checklist of the “Domino’s Anyware” services they are signed up for, so payment can be seamless.

Pizza Hut, another early adopter, has been allowing customers to reorder their favorites or order popular items through Facebook Messenger and Twitter since 2016. Pizza Hut customers can also use Alexa and Google Assistant to order and reorder their favorite items. To use any of these options, customers must first create an account with a delivery address and default payment method. At present, the restaurant chain does not allow customers to order via SMS, according to a spokesman.

Pizza Hut has gone so far as to test robot servers that accept Masterpass at locations in Asia.

Another forerunner in the space is Grubhub Inc., an online and mobile food-ordering company that connects diners with local restaurants. In 2017, the company introduced a skill on Alexa that allows customers with an order history and credit or debit card linked to their account to reorder by speaking their choices to Alexa. Alexa cannot accept Apple Pay, lines of credit, cash, or other types of payment. Users can also set and change their payment method and default delivery location using voice control.

Grubhub bought LevelUp in September for $390 million in cash.

Another company that’s been at the forefront of these initiatives is Wingstop Restaurants Inc., the chain of aviation-themed restaurants specializing in chicken wings. The company has rolled out various text and voice-based options over the past several years. For instance, it has a virtual ordering assistant available using text, Facebook Messenger, Twitter or Alexa. Customers can create an account and keep their payment information on file, but they don’t necessarily have to. For example, using Messenger, they can opt to check out as a guest and pay at the restaurant or online with a gift card. Using text, customers can also opt to pay with a credit card, and they will be directed to a secure website for checkout.

Meanwhile, a number of restaurants continue to explore their ordering technology options.

Patrik Hellstrand, chief executive of Oath Pizza, says the Boston-based chain is taking a step-by-step implementation approach. Oath Pizza customers currently can place orders online via computer or through a mobile-friendly website, but the company hopes to add text for reordering purposes soon. It is also weighing how voice ordering technology could be used at some future point after its texting initiative is successfully underway.

The restaurant chain is already using texting technology for marketing purposes, so texting to reorder is the next logical step, according to Hellstrand. The company is working with Thanx as its loyalty provider and is hoping the text-to-order capability will be fully functional within the year.

“I think there is an incremental opportunity to gain business from having it. If you increase the level of convenience, people may order more,” Hellstrand says.

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