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Operators dial up digital ordering

Tech-savvy pizza chains were the pioneers of online and mobile ordering, earning billions in delivery dough. Now, operators of various sorts want in on the action. They’re grooming digital platforms that make it convenient to order and pay for takeout with a tablet, smartphone or voice-controlled personal assistant and skip the line at pickup.

“Some of the smartest companies and investors in the world are banking the future of their companies on mobile,” says Aaron Allen, an Orlando, Fla.-based restaurant consultant. “There is plenty of evidence that points to the impact it can and will have in the industry.”

Online ordering, delivery options, apps and more

Take Domino’s Pizza, widely lauded for mobile ordering prowess. The company reported that 60% of its $5.3 billion in domestic sales last year came from digital channels. Its ever-growing list of ordering platforms includes Facebook Messenger, Zero Clicks, Twitter, text, smartwatches, smart TVs, the Ford Sync car app, Amazon Alexa, Google Home and voice-activated smartphone apps.

Additionally, Panera Bread Company reports that it broke the $1 billion mark in digital sales this year, and that figure could double in 2019. When ordering online from Panera, patrons may opt for either the Rapid Pick-Up shelf in the restaurant or home delivery. Systemwide digital sales made up 26% of total company sales as of the end of first quarter 2017, according to a press release from the company.

The Chick-fil-A One mobile app, introduced in  June, has been downloaded more than 10 million times, says Michael Lage, senior manager of digital experience at Chick-fil-A. “We currently have millions of customers using the app to guide their Chick-fil-A experience each month,” he adds, often by customizing the ingredients and condiments on their orders.

McDonald’s has also announced it will launch a mobile ordering and payment app in its 14,000 U.S. restaurants starting in the fourth quarter of this year. The app is currently in a beta pilot test in several markets. Patrons will be able to use the mobile app to order, pay and “check in” with a McDonald’s unit. Geofencing technology informs the kitchen when they are nearby so the food can be freshly prepared. They can pick up the order at the front counter, in the drive-thru or by curbside delivery.

Why are consumers choosing to order online?

Convenience appeals to many people, especially millennials. In fact, 29% of consumers aged 18-34 say that having online ordering is a reason they choose a particular location, according to Technomic’s 2016 Takeout & Off-Premise Dining Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite. Forty percent say they would use online ordering via a mobile device if offered, and 41% say that if offered, they would use the ability to prepay for to-go orders.

Looking ahead, mobile ordering platforms promise to become steadily smarter and more robust. Starbucks, for instance, is exploring voice ordering powered by artificial intelligence (AI) for its mobile app and the Amazon Alexa personal assistant. In addition to streamlining ordering, AI technology has the potential to boost mobile check averages by giving consumers personalized beverage and food sales suggestions based on factors such as their purchase history, time of day and the weather.

This post is sponsored by Comcast Business