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Why restaurants are investing in digital order integration

It's been a buzzword during RB’s FSTEC Community, where leaders touted integration’s ability to streamline operations and optimize the tech stack.
Photograph courtesy of Wingstop

Inspire Brands turned some heads in September when it invested in a software company that integrates third-party providers with restaurants’ POS systems.

The parent company of Arby’s, Jimmy John’s and Buffalo Wild Wings said it planned to roll out the new technology from ItsaCheckmate across thousands of restaurants following a successful test at Arby’s. 

Integration refers to one platform’s ability to share data with, or “talk to,” another. Integration platforms like ItsaCheckmate field orders from third-party companies such as DoorDash and channel them directly into a restaurant’s POS, doing away with the need for individual tablets for each delivery app, and for staff to manually enter orders from those tablets into the POS.

As more business moves to online channels amid the pandemic, integration is becoming a buzzword among restaurant tech leaders for its ability to help streamline operations as well as build a stronger tech stack.

“Online ordering is becoming the norm. And we are getting into a space where we are integrating not just third-party delivery orders” but also messaging bot, voice and kiosk orders, said ItsaCheckmate CEO Vishal Agarwal in September. “So that’s the space that we are seeing evolve and gain speed with this pandemic. And that’s even more solidified our position to stay in this space.”

For some restaurants, a product’s ability to integrate with other systems has become a key factor while shopping for tech.

“Once we selected our online ordering platform, every solution that we've selected since then has been with the mind of, ‘What is the integration that is needed?’ and we selected partners who had that integration already built in or wanted to build it with us,” said Subha Rajagopalan, VP of IT applications for P.F. Chang’s, during Restaurant Business' virtual FSTEC Community. You can register for the community and attend numerous webinars on-demand here

At times, integration became Chang’s top criteria when choosing a tech supplier, even beyond pricing, she said. That’s because a unilateral system keeps customer data in a single channel, allowing Chang’s to make better use of it.

“If you don't have the technology connected, you really cannot trace that customer end to end,” said Rajagopalan. “If [online ordering platform] Olo doesn't pass it back and forth with the loyalty, if Olo doesn't pass back and forth with our reservation and waitlisting, you don't really know.”

Wingstop has also taken an “integration-first” approach to tech because it enables the chain to quickly adapt and add capabilities on the fly.

“Integration allows your technology investments to be flexible, to help you solve your business problems from back in 2013 and adapt to changing business conditions and opportunities in 2020,” said Stacy Peterson, the chain’s chief technology officer, during FSTEC.

Not only can integration help establish a good foundation for the tech stack, but some restaurants have seen an impact on the bottom line as well. 

Modern Market worked with Grubhub to send orders directly to its POS system, bypassing an additional tablet or even a middleman service like ItsaCheckmate. The 16-unit chain has seen better success on the Grubhub platform as a result, said Brian Anderson, Modern Market’s director of technology. 

“I would say that we'll probably see some more of that if the delivery trend continues because it eliminates a hop in the order path, which is always a potential for failure or disconnection or latency,” he said during FSTEC.

Wingstop has a similar system setup with DoorDash that has helped improve the chain’s delivery operation, Peterson said.

“You can't build a business or business service with 20 different providers and 20 different tablets on your front counter, so you've really got to invest in having rock-solid integration,” she said. “[Delivery] really puts some pressure on efficiencies and timing, so you've got to have that technology supporting this business.”

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