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Location-aware technologies: Coming to a restaurant near you

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons user m01229)

Whether your brand is already off and running with mobile ordering, or you’re still figuring out how to make it work, technologies such as NFC, QR codes, Bluetooth Smart, Wi-Fi, geo-fencing and in-app check-ins are here to stay. And they have the potential to transform both the brand and its operations.

Combined, these technologies and techniques make up a class called “mobile presence technologies,” which can communicate a customer’s proximity to a restaurant location.

This year, we will undoubtedly see brands adopting automatic or user-prompted technologies to signal to communicate wirelessly, from the customer to the kitchen. With technologies such as Bluetooth Smart, Wi-Fi and geo-fencing, a restaurant’s branded mobile app can trigger an order automatically when the customer crosses a predefined perimeter or physically arrives on-site. Sound a little too sci-fi? It’s not. Just as map and navigation systems can tell customers how to get to your location, the technology can be used to geo-fence, establishing a technological perimeter around your location.

User-prompted techniques achieve the same goal by requiring the customer to check in or scan a QR code using their mobile device when arriving at the restaurant. Instead of an app’s automatically alerting the kitchen when a customer places a mobile order, the user does it at just the right moment: as they arrive at your restaurant, or when they are a few minutes away.

Impact on customer experience

In most scenarios today, placing a pickup order requires customers to estimate their arrival time. This guessing game can make for suboptimal food quality if there happens to be a disconnect between the call to the restaurant and order pickup. A ten-minute delay on picking up a pizza may not make a world of difference, but would be a major inconvenience for a coffee and breakfast sandwich order.

Location-aware technologies allow the customer’s device to communicate with the restaurant as they approach the storefront, signaling the right time to prepare the order based on the user’s distance to the restaurant.

It also allows restaurants and c-store brands alike to reimagine the way “curbside” orders are handled. Imagine a user sending their pre-paid order to the store along with the make and model of their car, which is delivered to their parking spot or gas pump without the need for wasted phone calls or time waiting in the car.

Behind-the-scenes impact

Depending on cook times, location-aware technology is the perfect way to deliver freshly prepared food to a customer — solidifying another visit — or avoid waste. If the customer never crosses the perimeter, the restaurant never prepares the food. Orders are also prepaid and fired in a matter of clicks from the customer’s phone, eliminating the monotony of a daily order and creating new habits when increasingly busy customers choose where to eat based on the ease of their experience.

With brands in all restaurant segments under pressure to build market share by aligning service models toward customer convenience, this will soon become a cross-category priority.

In the past, many restaurant brands have left mobile apps to their marketing or IT departments, but now it’s time to rethink that strategy. A mobile app does increase brand awareness and loyalty, but these new tools are also a boon for operations. Through the use of mobile presence technology, restaurants can perfect the operational timing needed to maintain perfect food and beverage quality. The technologies improve order accuracy by removing error-inducing steps from today’s person-to-machine-to-person-to-machine ordering process, all while further speeding service time and increasing customer happiness.

Noah Glass is the Founder & CEO of Olo. Since 2005, Olo has helped restaurant brands increase revenue per square foot by delivering faster, more accurate, and more personal service through digital ordering. Today, over 9 million consumers use the Olo platform to order ahead and Skip the Line® at the restaurants they love.


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