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Digital news roundup

New tech boosts Olive Garden’s off-premise sales…

A new online ordering system helped to deliver a 13 percent year-over-year increase in Olive Garden’s takeout sales for the quarter ended August 24, according to management of parent company Darden Restaurants.

They noted that the upgraded technology also yielded an improvement in margins because the average check for orders placed through the system is higher than the mean for phoned-in orders.

The company also cited “encourage results” from a limited test of in-store tablets, which customers can use to place orders and settle their checks. Management said the devices have encouraged the sale of add-on items while speeding table turns, though they did not quantify the additional business. They divulged that 60 percent of guests at the test stores opted to settle their bills via the tablets.

…But an investor wants to see more

A disgruntled investor in Darden Restaurants is asking fellow shareholders to support a detailed revitalization plan that calls in part for modernizing Olive Garden’s technology.

“Olive Garden is the 800 lb. gorilla of Italian casiual dining, but is a dinosaur when it comes to using technology in branding and marketing,” the hedge firm Starboard Value commented in a 300-page plan to turn around the struggling Darden property.

Starboard specifically called for the chainwide rollout of tabletop tablets, citing estimates that guests’ use of the devices for ordering and check settlement typically cuts five to 10 minutes off a visit. Faster table turns would net each Olive Garden more than $800 a week in incremental sales, according to Starboard’s analysis.

The increased guest volume could deliver $20 million in additional EBITDA, the firm concluded.

Firehouse Subs gives heads-up on app changeover

The arrival of new technology can require a hard stop on the use of the preceding generation. Firehouse Subs recently alerted users of its mobile ordering app that the plug would be pulled on that system to make way for a new, more advanced set-up.

In the meantime, customers are encouraged to use an online ordering and payment system.

Twitter adds a commerce function

A restaurant chain isn’t among the charter users of Twitter’s new To Buy function, but the social media giant stresses that more partners will be added “soon” if the rollout proceeds as expected.

The new feature, introduced Sept. 8, enables commercial users of  Twitter to include a To Buy button in tweets about a product or service. Followers can hit the button to get more information on the offering, then enter their shipping and payment information, and finally complete the transaction by having the order be sent to the merchant.

Twitter says the information is encrypted and stored after a follower’s first transaction so the process is streamlined for subsequent purchases.

The inaugural users of the capability include The Home Depot, Burberry and a number of musical artists.

BWW adopts games playable far from restaurants

Customers don’t have to visit a Buffalo Wild Wings to enjoy the casual chain’s new entertainment programming. The early adapter of in-store computer games has plugged into a new gaming network that enables patrons to play against one another via smartphone, tablet or a home computer.

The adoption of the new GameBreak system “helps extend the Buffalo Wild Wings experience beyond the restaurant to further differentiate ourselves in the marketplace and strengthen guest loyalty,” CEO Sally Smith said in announcing the move.

Wherever they happen to be, customers can vie with one another for weekly prizes redeemable at a BWW. They can also play in-store via tablets supplied by the restaurant.

Sonic is counting on tech to bolster comp sales
The franchisor of Sonic Drive-Ins says company stores will likely outstrip franchises in sales growth next year because of the new digital signs and POS system that were recently installed.

Although the forecast was included in a statement to investors, it could have been taken as a goad to licensees. The new technology will be rolled to franchise stores this fall, the company said. 

Sonic expects systemwide same-store sales to increase in the low-single-digit range for 2015.

Subway opts for the Softcard system

Less than a week after Apple revealed McDonald’s commitment to accept the tech company’s new digital wallet, Subway announced that all of its U.S. stores would participate as of Oct. 1 in the rival Softcard mobile payment system.

Subway’s announcement was a head-scratcher because the industry’s largest chain had already been identified during Apple’s release of the new iPhone 6 as a charter participant in the Apple Pay program. None of the parties have clarified which system Subway will actually accept, or if it’s both.

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