The menuboards focus on lowering the amount of selling points, thus making it an easier ordering experience for new and lapsed users—who have returned in mass since the Zoodles launch buzzed awareness. Upselling, improving units per transaction, and highlighting the Zoodles were other key goals.
Pushing a healthy brand positioning makes sense for Noodles. The company engaged Wakefield Research to survey customers and found that 52 percent of people want to eat more vegetables this summer and make steps toward a healthier lifestyle. However, 53 percent feel healthy habits often fall apart when dining out.
The chain saw a clear chance to dive into that preference gap. And that runway has legs. “Where we do still see opportunity in terms of what the guests are telling us they'd like, they do like the plant-based alternatives,” Boennighausen said.
Noodles is testing items along the lines of cauliflower, he added, and has further innovation plans in tests for later in 2019 and beyond.
Where more opportunity lies
As culinary options widen for Noodles, so do convenience initiatives. Off-premises sales grew to 56 percent of sales during Q1—a sizable 500-basis points increase year-over-year.
One thing that’s interesting about the growth: of the 56 percent, 22 percent is either quick pickup or delivery (another 2 percent or so is catering). That means more than 30 percent of Noodles’ guests are still coming into the restaurant, waiting in line, going through the ordering process, and then waiting another four to five minutes, Boennighausen said.
“That’s just not ideal,” he added.
Boennighausen said there’s “tremendous opportunity” to optimize the experience for that third of customers. The company’s new app is helping.
Digital ordering, inclusive of delivery, lifted 63 percent, year-over-year, in Q1 and accounted for 22 percent of total sales. Exclusive of delivery, digital ordering sales and quick pickup upped 32 percent from the prior year and made up 17 percent of sales.
In Q4 of this year, Boennighausen said, Noodles will relaunch its digital platform with a nod to the previously mentioned issue. It will focus on the ordering process as well as Noodles’ rewards program. “While we expect this initiative will further reduce friction for our guests, we also believe that it will be transformative in increasing our capabilities to engage with guests from a marketing perspective in a more personalized, targeted and relationship-driven manner,” he said.
“We believe this is a brand, given our unique capabilities to meet that off-premises occasion and our unique capabilities with the younger generation, a more technology savvy generation where we skew from a guest perspective,” Boennighausen added. “We believe we should have a best-in-class type guest engagement platform on par with a company like a Starbucks.”
Separate from its internal digital ordering platforms, Noodles’ third-party delivery efforts accounted for 5 percent of sales in Q1 versus 3.1 percent this past quarter.
Even with the growth and accretive earnings benefits, though, Boennighausen said the process comes with additional costs. As a result, Noodles is testing select pricing strategies regarding delivery to determine how it can mitigate the impact of fees on its margin profile.
Additionally, Noodles anticipates relaunching its catering program in 2020. Currently, the platform measures less than 2 percent of total sales.