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How to avoid online ordering meltdowns

Software can help manage online orders, but only to a point.
online ordering frenzy

With today’s heavy reliance on technology, especially among millennials, online ordering is becoming a must-have in nearly all segments. The challenge for restaurateurs is figuring out how to bring online ordering into their operations, without screwing over the kitchen with added requests. The smartest software can do a lot—from integrating directly into a restaurant’s POS system to pacing out orders for the kitchen and accurately quoting wait times. But it can’t do everything.

That’s where operators need to fill in the gaps, taking the data flowing into and out of the online-ordering system (peak ordering periods, how fast orders are prepped, etc.) and interpreting it for a smoother service.

JK Werner, who opened his first Zoom Pizza Factory in Chicago in November, uses a tablet-based online-ordering system that’s tied in with his POS and prints tickets in the kitchen. “The beauty of the system is it gives us data to make … adjustments. We can track how quickly orders go through and how long they wait before pickup,” he says. Still, Werner has to be aware of his staff’s capabilities and adjust the program for employee variation. Should he be short staffed or have a slower crew on one night, he must pull back the number of available man-minutes for a given period. He also must be able to switch off online ordering entirely if things get jammed.

Some operators, though, don’t want to slow down or shut off orders. Instead, build-your-own fast casual Blaze Pizza staffs up.

Blaze uses a third-party online-ordering system that’s integrated with its POS. The system does have a feature that would delay firing and give customers wait times, says Jim Bittick, operations VP, though he doesn’t use it. That’s because the 94-unit fast casual’s mission is to deliver speed, no matter what, Bittick says.

Instead of relying on tech to parse out orders to the kitchen, Bittick’s solution to even the worst-case scenario—the proverbial influx of a tour bus plus an onslaught of online orders on a standard shift—is flexible staffing.

Blaze, which modeled its assembly-line operation after Chipotle, uses a second prep area for out-of-store orders—another idea from the Mexican chain. Chipotle’s little-known “second make line,” as co-CEO Monty Moran has called it, is a scaled-down behind-the-scenes version of the line guests walk along as their order is prepared.

Blaze brought that prep station for online orders up front and integrated it with the standard kitchen. “We made our online station fit all the standard pan sizes and prep levels we currently use,” says Bittick. Prepped pizzas go to the front of the line and into the oven when online customers arrive for pickup and come out 180 seconds later. “If we’re running a four-person pizza line [for in-house orders], the online ordering is directly behind it. So if you get a four-pizza online order, you can just redeploy one of those people to the back line.”

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