Capitalizing on carryout

by Bernard Shire
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – All indications point to the fact that the recession-induced lull of foodservice traffic has rebounded positively over the past 12-18 months, during a time when restaurant operators were forced to discover new revenue streams. One of those areas that helped keep many eateries afloat and continues to be a source of growth, is in the carryout and to-go segment. The growing demand for takeout and off-premise ordering and eating has evolved from a lifeboat for many foodservice chains and independents during lean times to an important mainstay in today’s business environment. The “to-go” trend has created a chance for other solutions-based companies to capitalize on a segment of the business that has, for years, been an afterthought for most restaurant operators.

The National Restaurant Association affirms that the increase in restaurant takeout becomes even more important when on-premise store traffic and sales remain flat.

“Consumers today are leading busier lives than ever, so convenience is a big driver of off-premise traffic,” says Annika Stensson, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association. “In the limited-service segment, it’s essentially the core of the business model, and table-service restaurants have been ramping up their off-premises options over the last decade. Roughly three-quarters of customer traffic across the industry is off-premises,” she says.

Millennials are prime targets for carryout-based dining, due in part to a shortage on time, but also for monetary reasons.

“For younger consumers, spending is sometimes a factor,” Stensson says. “These consumers are typically not yet in their peak earning years, and they tend to opt for limited-service takeout meals.”

She notes the association research shows 46 percent of consumers – and 61 percent of millennials – say takeout or delivery options are important attributes for choosing a table-service restaurant. And that takeout in some ways eases pressure for table-service operators because an off-premise transaction is faster than an on-premise one –“meaning you can make more sales in a shorter period of time. But other factors like check averages and packaging also must be considered.”

Stensson also thinks new technology is emerging, which is growing off-premises sales, across multiple concepts.

“Our research shows that more than a third of consumers say the availability of tech options like online, app and kiosk ordering makes them choose one restaurant over another, and that it makes them dine out or order takeout/delivery more often,” she says.

Take San Diego–based Restaurant Revolution Technologies (www.RRTUSA.com), an opportunistic solutions provider capitalizing on the $100 billion business of takeout and off-premises ordering for restaurants in the US. CEO David Schofield says a smaller, but growing portion of diners are utilizing online and mobile ordering.

“Right now, about 15 percent of people do takeout ordering from restaurants either online or by mobile apps using their smartphones," says Schofield. "But that leaves about 85 or 90 percent of people getting their takeout by using an ‘old-fashioned’ method – making a phone call to the restaurant.”

Phone-in orders are RRT’s bread and butter, but not its only focus. "We service 100 percent of takeout orders – online ordering, mobile ordering using apps, and phone calls. We’re one of only two or three businesses in the country able to provide a 100 percent service platform for off-premises dining and takeout.”

Schofield’s company has been in business since 2009. It was founded by Brett Harman, now RRT’s president focusing on business development. Harman put the model together, and its popularity soared almost immediately.

“Brett had a deep background in call center and hospitality businesses – it began with him providing food delivery to major Hollywood studios – there was no competition back then,” Schofield says. Harman became a consultant doing the same thing with several big restaurant chains, and set up the ordering platform and system. Schofield joined the company after working in institutional foodservice prior to joining Harman’s firm.

“I was CEO for a company in healthcare, providing interactive patient systems in hospitals,” he says. “Patients could learn about their health care, respond to surveys, and order their meals, all interactively. So this was a natural move into a system to help customers order interactively from restaurants,” says Schofield.

RRT maintains a takeout call center where phone-in takeout orders are taken by well-versed, trained agents. The center utilizes a cloud-based online and mobile food ordering platform with proven, high-security standards. The company maintains a database of customer analytics, which allows RRT to know and have a record of its new and repeat customers, which tracks customer preferences and buying patterns.

“We have a huge amount of data and we help our restaurant clients set up very effective marketing and loyalty programs,” Schofield says. Because order accuracy and customer satisfaction is crucial to this segment of the business, RRT relies on a fully integrated restaurant order management system to avoid irritating customers who might otherwise arrive home with an incomplete or incorrect order.

RRT focuses on restaurant chains with between 15 and 500 units. They service delis and sandwich shops like Jersey Mike’s in Connecticut; family restaurants like Lazy Dog Cafe; fast-casual restaurants such as The Habit Burger Grill; pizza and barbecue shops.

“Along with handling takeout transactions, we’re extremely interested in helping restaurants develop outbound businesses, like catering.

“Restaurants have a major job in serving all their customers. They have to be sure their in-house diners are taken care of well. Sometimes the takeout business doesn’t get all the attention it should. That’s where we come in. Because if some of a restaurant’s customers aren’t served, the entire business is going to suffer.”

Is phone ordering going to disappear? Schofield doesn’t think so. He believes the telephone-ordering call center will remain a bedrock of RRT’s takeout business operations. “I have news for people who think takeout is going to switch completely to online and mobile ordering. It’s not. We’ll always have people calling on the phone to order takeout.”
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