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3 trends in online ordering

4 min read


Noah Glass started OLO in 2005 after studying many of the ways technology was transforming customer interaction with banks, airlines and movie theaters. Since then, OLO has created online and mobile ordering systems for more than 150 chains, including Cold Stone Creamery, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and Sonic. I spoke with him about how OLO works, trends in online ordering and what’s changed since he started.

What’s changed since you started OLO?

Back when we were developing the first prototype in South Africa in 2004, we built it with the mobile Web in mind. But when we were bringing it to the U.S. in 2005, we realized the mobile Web hadn’t really arrived here yet the way it had in South Africa and other places. We realized we’d have to build a platform for mobile ordering that was text-message based.

Then mobile Web became more prevalent as people became aware they could use their BlackBerry to surf the Web; it changed again in 2008 with the first iPhones. That was a watershed moment for what mobile ordering could be. Android is growing faster, and there’s a second wave of excitement around mobile applications and the mobile Web. At the same time, point-of-sale systems in restaurants evolved and were able to accept online orders. It’s exciting to see these two things coming together: the consumer-tech and the retail-tech side, with OLO as a bridge.

How do you get around people’s reluctance to enter credit card information on a mobile keyboard?

At some point in the process, the customer has to enter that information. When customers first create an account with OLO, we ask them to enter their credit card info, whether they’re on a mobile or desktop. We’re able to save it by creating a token for the credit card that enables us to charge orders to the credit card on file. After that, whether they place an order at Five Guys or Cold Stone or Mooyah Burgers & Fries or any of our other clients’ sites, they use the same password and login, and it’s like a PayPal of sorts. That was critical to the mobile experience, and we had to build that early on because people couldn’t enter credit card numbers via text message.

Mobile apps versus optimized websites

We see that app customers order 35% more often than people who use mobile websites. When somebody downloads an app, they want to dedicate space on their phone to that app, so they’re a more loyal customer anyway. But, also, making the decision to download the app gets them into the ordering process faster, and restaurants are able to have more branding elements such as logos and color pictures.

But it’s also interesting to see that increasingly more customers visiting online ordering sites are visiting from mobile phones, using mobile Web. About 25% to 30% of visits to OLO sites are coming from mobile browsers. That said, we don’t recommend apps for small restaurants. They’re good for companies that have multiple locations. If you’re a brand that does mass-media advertising, that’s an indication that an app would be good for you.


  • Increasingly more, we’re seeing companies using the online-ordering tool as a call-center ordering tool. Instead of the phone ringing at the store, it’s ringing at the call center.
  • People are ordering from within the four walls of the restaurant. If you walk into a Five Guys and it’s really busy, you can place an order, pay and send it to the production line. The average wait time is seven minutes once an order is placed, so it’s a huge benefit versus waiting in line for five or 10 minutes before you order.
  • People are ordering for dine in as well as takeout and delivery. Some choose the full-service experience of talking to a cashier. I hear from some restaurants that they don’t want to lose that experience, but I make the argument that it allows the restaurant to allocate that labor for people who do want that full-service experience.