How Wrestling Back Control of Digital Channels Can Enhance the Guest Experience and Increase Check Sizes

    This solution increased ticket sizes by 30 percent for one fast casual brand, and received a 90-plus percent approval rating from guests. 
    Sponsored Content | July 19, 2022
    MENU Technologies

    Many restaurant operators hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic would come and go, and the traditional way of doing business would return. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the “old way” of doing things is gone forever. In particular, digital channels have become the very lifeblood of the quick-service industry over the past two years: the NPD Group recently reported that digital sales have grown 117 percent since the outset of the pandemic. 

    Statistics like this exhibit that most restaurants have pivoted toward digital sales, but that transition has also brought with it a host of new challenges. For example, brands that hastily added online ordering or delivery via a third-party aggregator might now be waking up to a world where the customer relationship is no longer under their control. Pivotally, restaurants are losing out on customer data when they are conducting commerce via third-party channels. 

    This leaves restaurants in the dark. They are not able to cultivate organic digital relationships, or meaningfully market directly to loyal customers. The guest experience at many restaurants is suffering as a result. Addressing these complications requires modern solutions, and certain ecommerce platforms are helping restaurants take back control of first and third-party digital ordering channels. 

    “Traditionally, I think restaurants have viewed technology with a back-of-house or administrative focus,” says Marlon Koch, co-founder and chief product officer of MENU Technologies. “What we’ve seen in the last couple of years is that technology is increasingly becoming a customer-facing tool that is positively affecting the guest experience.”  

    Rebuilding The Guest Journey

    One restaurant chain that has acclimated to this new digital age with grace is Vapiano, a 200-plus unit brand based in Germany, with stores in over 20 countries. As a “build-your-own,” fast-casual pizza concept, Vapiano has always provided a unique customer journey. Prior to the pandemic, guests would mark down on a sheet of paper the various toppings they wanted on their pizza, and hand it to a team member who would then build and cook the pie. This customization is a key differentiator for the popular German brand. 

    “Since we opened our first Vapiano location in 2002, that guest journey has been really core to who we are as a brand,” says Michael Szubarga, IT and digital adoption manager at Vapiano. “We want to give guests the freshest possible pizza, made right in front of them by their own chef.” 

    This original business model was not without challenges, though. For example, if guests planned to eat together, the timing of when food was ready would be staggered, limiting the time spent together socializing and eating. The brand felt this issue occasionally compromised the eating experience that it wished to provide. 

    The original customer journey also didn’t lend itself to upselling opportunities—with chefs dedicated to keeping throughput up, they were not always offering or clearly communicating add-ons that might go well on the pizza, or with it. Finally, Vapiano was missing out on pivotal customer data. 

    And so Vapiano reached out to MENU Technologies, a digital ecommerce platform that helps brands create a streamlined digital ordering experience across multiple channels. The idea was to make the guest experience more enjoyable, exacting, and efficient, while making the restaurant more profitable. That mission has been accomplished at Vapiano: since implementing MENU, the brand has seen ticket sizes increase by 30 percent thanks to clever upselling options, while Szubarga reports that 90 percent of customers believe the guest journey has been improved. 

    Szubarga says that Vapiano chose to partner with MENU Technologies because the company seemed to immediately understand the mission: to digitize the customer journey while maintaining what made it unique. 

    “We wanted to translate that guest journey into a digital experience, and MENU allowed us to do that,” Szubarga says. “Guests still get to customize the dish on their phone as though they were talking to the chef directly, choosing different add-ons that they want. We’ve seen an increase in the amount of sales from those modifiers, purely due to the fact that when given a bit more time to do things at your own pace, with no pressure, you’re going to choose a few more things. That’s been huge for us.” 

    “We wanted to translate that guest journey into a digital experience, and MENU allowed us to do that."

    But, perhaps most pivotally, Szubarga says implementing MENU Technologies means Vapiano is now accumulating customer data that it never used to have access to. Using its previous business model, Vapiano had few points to collect data aside from if they pay with a credit card or cash, or sign up for guest WiFi. Now, the brand is collecting swaths of data relating to consumer behavior that is helping create actionable changes. 

    “It’s really simple: we now know who our guests are,” Szubarga says. “We know what they ordered, what they added on, how long they spent ordering—these are all things that allow us to be flexible in offering them what they want to have.”

    Marlon Koch co-founded MENU Technologies when he was just 14 years old. 


    Origins of MENU

    Koch was 14 years old when he decided that restaurants should know him and his family better. Specifically, he wanted waitstaff to know when he and his family were done eating and ready for a check. Koch felt there must be some way to create a digital interface that would help expedite restaurant transactions. 

    “I was an impatient teenager who didn’t understand why we had to wait and flag down a member of the waitstaff and then have a whole back and forth in order to pay,” Koch says. “I was like, ‘I’m done eating, can we go now?’”

    This is the origin story of MENU Technologies, founded by Koch and his father when he was just 14 years old. Their original digital ordering solution has evolved a great deal since, but its core competency is still the same: it helps restaurants, like Vapiano, offer seamless dining experience in all customer touchpoints with digital ordering, payment and loyalty. But in order for restaurants to buy in, Koch knew it needed to be a more advanced technology platform that held greater value than just driving an exceptional customer journey—it needed to have tangible ROI attached to it. 

    “We embarked on this journey in building an ecommerce platform that caters to restaurant brands looking to build their first party channels, but also manage those third party channels,” Koch says. “As we were doing this, we realized it was so much more than just a mobile app. I think what it’s really about is building the customer relationship.” 

    Given feedback from some of the top quick-service brands in Europe, MENU has evolved its software into a holistic commerce platform that drives sales and tackles an ever-increasing amount of challenges that operators face on a daily basis. In addition to getting to know customers better and driving higher ticket sizes, MENU’s solutions help address some of the industry’s most pressing challenges, including labor and food costs. 

    “We embarked on this journey in building an ecommerce platform that caters to restaurant brands looking to build their first party channels, but also manage those third party channels... we realized it was so much more than just a mobile app. I think what it’s really about is building the customer relationship.” 

    MENU Technologies offers an all-in-one digital restaurant platform that allows restaurant brands to improve their ordering, both on and off-premise. On top of that, there is a built-in loyalty program that boosts customer retention on all of the ordering channels MENU offers - mobile, web and kiosk. On the other hand, MENU helps operators forecast based on data and analytics from previous weeks, months, or years. 

    In many ways, Koch says, MENU Technologies was born for this moment. With the myriad challenges facing the industry, and with margins as slim as ever before, restaurants need partners that offer holistic services that solve multiple challenges. They also need software that is intuitive, and achieves ROI—MENU Technologies has won multiple awards for being user-friendly and effective in simplifying tasks for the staff instead of adding additional workload. And the ROI speaks for itself: what brand couldn’t use a 30 percent increase in check size? 

    “You should be looking for ROI in a tech stack,” Koch says. “And an important piece of that is execution. Think of what Vapiano did: they didn’t think of digital as an add-on—they saw it as a defining piece of the guest experience. They said, ‘What will our future guest experience look like if we incorporate technology that drives it rather than just enhances it?’ And now 90 percent of their sales are digital today, and check sizes have increased. It’s been a great success.” 

    For more on the MENU ecommerce platform, visit the company’s website