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Tools | Quinn Bowman

Logging On for Takeout
While restaurants and service providers say online ordering is ready to take off, the statistics show it is still in its infancy.
Restaurant consumers can place orders via the internet

Now that the Internet has become an omnipresent factor in daily life for most Americans, there’s no doubt it will continue to change how restaurant goers interact with quick-serve and fast-casual locations. As the online world changes how voters learn about presidential candidates and communicate with friends and loved ones, it will also change how hungry people order food from their favorite restaurants.

Already a number of quick-serve and fast-casual chains are allowing customers to place pickup and delivery orders over the Internet. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2007 Restaurant Industry Forecast 13 percent of consumers have placed an online order. Yet an industry researcher gives a cautious take on the implications of increased online ordering numbers.

Harry Balzer, vice president of NPD, a consumer marketing research firm, believes the perceived growth in online ordering trends can be attributed to the fact that the market was so small to begin with. “When you have one order and all of a sudden you have two, that’s 100 percent growth,” he says.

Balzar’s most recent numbers on online ordering show that only 0.2 percent of all restaurant orders were made over the Internet, while 10 percent were made over the telephone. Four years ago, 10.9 percent of orders came over the telephone and 0.1 percent over the net.

Balzer isn’t completely convinced online ordering will grow in the future either. “Everything is possible, the real question is: Does it make life easier,” he says. He says that picking up a phone and ordering is still easier than firing up a computer and ordering food with a mouse.

One online ordering provider, Big Holler, is far more optimistic about the future of the Internet trend. The company cites the ability to build a customer database, reduce labor costs, and improve order accuracy as some of the benefits of starting an online ordering operation.

Some of the company’s clients feel the same way.

“Online ordering is just another one of those conveniences that people have grown to expect,” says Tony Marsters, IT director for Pita Pit. “As people become more familiar with these types of systems, they begin to feel more comfortable looking at the order they are placing as opposed to simply listing off an order to someone on the other end of the phone.”

The process for implementing online ordering capabilities into a modern restaurant, that is at least equipped with an electronic point-of-sale system, is simple.

Big Holler, for example, creates an ordering solution through new or existing restaurant Web sites. The company can create a branded menu and back-end order system and has been offering its current service for about a year. Big Holler Sales Director Mark Dineen says his employees can create a simple or elaborate online ordering face for a restaurant. Big Holler also provides online reporting features so managers can monitor the flow of orders. In addition, the company offers clients tools that allow managers to change menu details and inform customers of store closings without working through a Web master. The company counts Planet Pizza, Thunder Cloud, Wings To Go, The Original Soup Man, Dino’s Gyro, Mission Bay, and Chappy’s among its clients.

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