Noodles & Company found that the Zoodle option brought back lapsed customers and resonated with guests who were dining in and out of the restaurant.
“Folks who have not been using the brand for a long time had forgotten about us based on some perceptions around the healthiness of our menu,” Boennighausen said. “That's where we saw a lot of the pickup toward the middle of last year.”
Off-premises has always played a big role for the chain, and it’s still on the rise. In Q4, Noodles & Company capitalized on growing channels as off-premises sales upped to 54 percent of overall mix. The addition of pick-up shelves and streamlined online ordering contributed to this figure.
“Those guests that love us and used to come to us are now coming much more frequently because it's just so much easier to just order ahead, pick it up and you're on your way,” Boennighausen said.
In 2019, the company plans to capture new customers by communicating the ease of digital ordering. There’s significant opportunity to engage new guests, Boennighausen said.
The company continues to ride the momentum it gained in 2018. Boennighausen said Noodles & Company would leverage the financial performance to invest in areas it feels will anchor the brand long-term. Those include expansion in off-premises and app development, which go hand-in-hand.
Eventually the company envisions off-premises mixing 60–65 percent of sales. A big part of hitting that number will be getting customers to order online and pickup orders in the store, which should take less than 30 seconds, Murphy said.
“We see that freeing up, frankly, transaction capability for the dine-in at the Noodles that we have today,” Murphy said.
Currently over a third of sales come from people waiting in line and ordering. By switching to this pay ahead, “pick-it-up-and-you're-gone type approach, can lift that 16 percent of sales up dramatically,” Boennighausen said.
Online ordering increased 16 percent during Q4 and the company hopes that number will grow even more. Throughout 2019, Noodles will test ways to eliminate friction in restaurant pickups.
Along with pickup areas in stores, the company is experimenting with pickup windows in new units. The company expects to incorporate this feature into 75 percent of new locations. In 2019, it plans to open 5–9 new restaurants with 4–6 of those being new company units.
“In the limited number of restaurants that currently have windows, we've seen great adoption and appreciation from our guests to be able to pick up their order without having to leave the car,” Boennighausen said.
Improving the app is a major part of improving online ordering capabilities. Customers want an easy ordering process and these changes will help ease the process. The app will also feature Noodles & Company’s rewards program, which they will relaunch by the end of the year.
“The ease of ordering through it, we think that will continue to help us build the off-premise business and through the online ordering and pay ahead,” Murphy said.
In addition to carry-out options, Noodles & Company will expand delivery and catering options in 2019. Delivery will be available in 95 percent of locations in the near future. This off-premises option accounts for 3.1 percent of sales and is another area with whitespace, the company said.
While customer demands are increasingly focused on delivery, Noodles & Company recognizes adding delivery to the business comes with significant costs.
“We'll be testing different pricing strategies with regard to delivery over the coming months to ascertain how we might mitigate the material impact of delivery fees on our margin profile,” Boennighausen said.
At the moment, catering accounts for less than 2 percent of sales. Noodles & Company is reworking the catering program and will launch it sometime in 2020.