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Chains continue to evolve their apps and digital ordering

A number of brands, including Dunkin' Donuts and Applebee’s, have leaned into ever-changing tech to improve the guest experience.

There’s been a wave of restaurant chains launching major updates to their mobile apps of late. Pei Wei, Del Taco and Applebee’s recently rolled out new apps. Papa Murphy’s is working on a new website, with changes to its app up next. Operators have learned that the only good app is one that is constantly updated and improved. Mobile technology continues to evolve, and so do the wants and needs of customers—and potential customers. 

Changing consumer behaviors drove Dunkin’ Donuts to create a new version of its app and other ordering technology. The updates refine the customer experience and respond to consumer requests to improve the app’s use and functionality. 

For Dunkin’, that meant adding several partnerships to expand digital ordering potential. The chain linked with navigation app Waze, so drivers who have both the Waze and Dunkin’ apps can place mobile orders from within the Waze app. The upgrade has been in place for a little over a year, and it’s been huge for Dunkin’, says Paul Murray, director of digital experience for Dunkin’ Brands. Similarly, many owners of new GM cars can hook into their Dunkin’ account via the GM Marketplace platform to place orders from the dashboard, Murray says.

In March, the chain took its digital ordering to the next level by tapping into the trend of voice activation. Users of Google Assistant can place orders by asking Google to let them talk to Dunkin’, and then simply speaking orders into their device, Murray says. 

Not all upgrades need to be as high-tech, though. Tuning into guest desires can lead to small changes that have a big impact. For example, more Dunkin’ guests are requesting almond milk with their orders, but the option was only available in-store. It has now been added to the app. 

With 13.1 million downloads, the success of Dunkin’s app program is clear. But its future success depends on continual refinements, Murray says.  

Another proponent of constant tweaking, Fazoli’s, launched its first app in September 2017 and is already in the process of updating it. For the fast-casual chain, even small changes in the app can generate big responses. Almost all of its upcoming changes are based on guest feedback, says Will Hanrahan, digital marketing manager. 

“I’m responsible for dealing with the help desk inquiries, so it’s in my best interest to cut those down by improving the customer experience as much as possible,” Hanrahan says. 

The upcoming app updates include a simpler birthday signup for free dessert and better instructions on locations that accept the app. The new version also improves the guest review process. While the old app had an option that asked customers to share their Fazoli’s reviews on their personal Facebook pages, the chain realized it was asking too much of some guests, says Hanrahan. The updated app instead asks guests if they’re willing to allow Fazoli’s to post their reviews on the Fazoli’s website.

The update will also feature clearer navigation. In the past, because of the prominent positioning of the Need Help button, many guests skipped the FAQ portion. The new app adds an FAQ button before guests are encouraged to contact the chain directly. 

Hanrahan says that Fazoli’s app evolution isn’t done. There’s one big improvement that the brand still hopes to add in the future: a native ordering platform. The current app mostly pulls up the mobile version of the online ordering website. “We want a more native ordering experience that feels unique to the app,” says Hanrahan.

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