Way Beyond The Wallet: From Takeout To Personalized Dining Experiences

“You got six super-sized orders of Five Guys French fries?” my wife said in disbelief. “This is what you are bringing to a pot luck dinner?”

“I used my iPhone to get them,” I said in weak defense of myself.

“That makes it better?” Her voice pitch escalates exponentially when I do boneheaded things. As my wife gets really agitated at me, it feels as if I am being chewed out by Minnie Mouse on helium.

“Yes, that does make it better. I was testing their mobile ordering app,” I said.

If a cartoon flower pot (or Pluto, for that matter) was nearby she would have thrown it at me, I think.

“You know all too many of your weird moves get justified as ‘tests’ for your columns."

As Mickey Mouse well knows, there is no fighting back against Minnie when she gains momentum.

“You juggled six devices during a Super Bowl we didn’t really want to watch.”

“I, uh…”

“Yelp didn’t tell us that the four-star sushi place has you wait an hour between courses, did it?”

“You know, about that…”

“How many times did you buy Fandango movie tickets for us on the app only to find you got them for the wrong theater?”

“That isn’t the app’s fault, you know…”

“You spent half of our vacation in Italy fretting over the international roaming charges and on the phone with AT&T.”

“I did recover a lot of that bill.”

“There are so many remote controls for our TV, I had to buy you a wicker laundry basket to contain them all. And I still need to call you when you travel so you can walk me through how to play a DVD.”

“Yeah, the PS3 gets tricky.”

“And need I remind you about the botched birthday weekend getaway last year?”


“When you used your iPad to reserve a room, and...?”

“Tapped the wrong button and reserved it for the wrong month,” I mumble in a voice now approximating Pluto.


“We didn’t find out until we appeared at the hotel and we weren’t even registered. Surprise!?”

“Right. Testing the mobile gadgets. Well, I hope that thing that does everything else dials 911 in a hurry when everyone’s arteries close on them at dinner tonight from six orders of French fries.”

“They’re going to love them. They are great fries, and I got four different varieties.”

“This group is mostly vegetarian and junk food-averse,” she says, artfully avoiding calling her friends ‘tree-huggers.’   

In the end, of course, amidst the tabouli salads and lentil casseroles, the artful uses of quinoa and tofu, my six orders of oil-drenched Five Guys fries pretty much got devoured. Medics were standing by, but no one was injured. Even the Green Party knows good fries when they taste them.

The move to mobile app food ordering would seem to be a natural for the phone. After all, takeout orders and restaurant reservations traditionally were phone activities. But of course, these were person-to-person communications. The orderer had the confidence of a voice confirmation on the other end. Digital, while easier and cheaper for all concerned, introduces uncertainties. I know that when I used the excellent Five Guys app on my iPhone to order six super helpings of fries, I checked the confirmations several times before I felt confident the orders would be there at the post-dated hour when I arrived. I also worried they might think this was a prank of some sort. It turns out that a lot of people order mountains of fries and not much else.    

In one sense the Five Guys app didn’t quite do its job, which should be to upsell me stuff I never intended on buying. Ordering by app is ultimately going to be a boon to the quick-service and casual dining industries. Once the customer becomes confident in online ordering, it is much easier to push more items in front of their hungry eyes than via a voice call. “The average order placed is 25% larger than those placed traditionally over the phone,” says Noah Glass, founder and CEO of OLO, the company behind the Five Guys app as well as others for Cold Stone Creamery, Fatburger, La Boulange and some Subway and Sonic franchises. “When the customer is seeing prompts and suggested items, it increases the number of things in the order.”

Mobile app adoption for restaurants also has a frequency and CRM effect. Glass tells me that people who download the app return nearly 32% more often than those who have not mobilized the brand. And on the back end, the restaurant gets an email address to which they can re-market offers. This pays off in email subscriptions, which have grown in some cases fivefold to some merchants because of the mobile ordering channel. The Five Guys app alone has been downloaded over 500,000 times and is in use for over 1,000 locations. “Some say they have seen their sales increase by 8%,” Glass claims.

Over time the mobilization of the base deepens the restaurant’s understanding of who customers are, what and how often they buy, and what new items that customer may be willing to try.

The mobilization of eating out gets even more interesting when you consider the many other ways that apps could insert themselves into the experience. The QSRs are a natural for mobile, but casual dining places are starting to experiment, Glass says. He is contemplating apps that let people order while waiting for tables, for instance, so the food gets to them faster when they sit down. There is also the possibility of letting the seated customer self-service their tables with full ordering or additional sides and drink refreshes.

Glass says that tabletop tablets and table kiosks are starting to pop up in-market. But he regards many of these models as “stopgaps” to a more app-centric and personal restaurant ordering experience. “We see this as a bring-your-own-device world,” he says. “If I have a phone or a tablet, why put other devices on the table when the one I already have knows who I am and has my favorites on file?”

In some ways, Glass is envisioning yet another place where the mobile device becomes the personalization agent that gets applied in different situations. Way beyond the idea of a wallet, this turns the phone into an ID that customizes any number of physical world experiences. This is the personal ID that you want to carry with you because the conveniences and value-adds are demonstrable.

The app platform achieves its next level of promise when it reverses the polarity on its roots as a media distribution screen. It doesn’t just receive data, but casts it off to change the environment -- customize it to our needs. When the apps start acting on the world -- informing experiences, even changing experiences -- then they become truly indispensable and intimate tools of everyday life. Wanting your phone to become a credit card? Small potatoes compared to what it really can do. 

I try to describe to my wife the future scenarios where your phone can narrowcast to stores or restuarants who you are, what you want, and how best to serve you. She is unimpressed.

"I have a hard enough time convincing people I didn't marry a total whack-a-doodle when you pull stunts like bringing heart-stopping quantities of French fries to a pot luck dinner. Why do I want an app that broadcasts details of your personality? For the nine-thousandth time since I married you, put the damn phone away before it gets us into more trouble."


3 comments about "Way Beyond The Wallet: From Takeout To Personalized Dining Experiences ".
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  1. Steve Smith from Mediapost, September 25, 2012 at 2:53 p.m.

    @Paula. Not only did my wife approve the quotes, she edited my typos...because...."you really can't type at all, can you?"

  2. Noah Wieder from SearchBug, Inc., September 25, 2012 at 2:59 p.m.

    Five Guy's Fries.. Dangerously Good. Advantage to ordering on the App.. you don't have to see the calorie count on the menus. Although I'm within walking distance of a Five Guy's and rarely get anything to go, I might have to check out the App. Not sure why the App only collects an email address, might be better to authorize a mobile opt-in and send the mobile number. Do they have a "5guys" short code yet? How about a QRCode Window Decal using short URLs and weekly 301 redirects for various promotions, opt-ins, menu links, upsells, foursquare tie-ins. So much technology.. such little time to play with it all.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 25, 2012 at 7:58 p.m.

    Steve - Good for her ! Spot on ! Isn't there an app for typos ?

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