News & Opinion > PRO >

I Want It NOW

Domino’s Pizza made foodservice history in 1973 when it introduced its 30-minute guarantee for delivery. That amount of time sounds positively glacial in 2010. Online ordering, social media sites and applications for web-enabled phones literally put restaurants and retailers in the palms of their customers’ hands 24/7.

Here are just a few examples of businesses that are already ahead of this curve and in the best position to respond to the growing number of consumers who ‘Want it NOW.’

If you can’t get to the food, let the food come to you.

For many, 2009 was ‘The Year of the Mobile Food Cart.’ KoGi™ Korean BBQ-To-Go is the Los Angeles phenom that started it all, routing four food-equipped trucks through L.A. neighborhoods and alerting potential customers of their whereabouts by sending messages on Twitter to KoGi-craving fans. The trucks serve KoGi signature Korean Short Rib tacos but also offer chicken and pork items,as well as tofu options for non meat-eaters. Truck schedule dates and locations are posted on the KoGi website kogibbq.com and updated frequently, so no one ever need go far for their fix.

While convenience is surely part of the attraction of mobile carts, the food better be good. According to Restaurant Business magazine, other restaurateurs getting on board include Susan Feniger with her The Border Grill Taco Truck, Los Angeles. Roberto Santibañez also delivers with The Taco Truck in New Jersey. Sweetgreen in Washington, D.C., launched its Sweetflow mobile, serving the chain’s farmer’s market-inspired salads, fresh wraps and frozen yogurt. Sweetgreen loyalists can get lunch anywhere in the city, and the truck provides management a clever way to scout locations for future stores.

So, are mobile carts a trend or merely a fad? According to the National Restaurant Association ‘What’s Hot in 2010’ study, 15% of respondents reported that they believe the hottest restaurant concept trend will be ‘street food and mobile food trucks/carts.’ Expect to see a few more operations steer customers their way by driving right up to them.

Look no further than your phone

While social networking vehicles such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have been successfully leveraged by some businesses, others are wary.

However, a growing number of consumer-focused businesses are tapping into technology and developing their own applications for use on web-enabled phones. A couple of those which have made the leap have been rewarded with fast and widespread consumer acceptance.

Kraft Foods Inc. launched its iFood Assistant application for iPhone and iPod touch users in November, 2008. The app was developed to help consumers locate Kraft products in store and prepare meals from an online recipe database. Other features include video how-to instructions and tips for smart shopping. The surprise? Men love the app and account for 22% of the users. And about 99% of them are first-time users of a Kraft website.

On the foodservice side, the Pizza Hut iPhone app logged over 100,000 downloads within its first two weeks of availability and drove over $1 million in sales within three months of its launch in July, 2009. The application gives users the ability to order from the nearest Pizza Hut location from their iPhone or iPod Touch. The company is working on application platforms compatible with the BlackBerry, Andriod and Palm Pre.

Augmented Reality at Your Fingertips

If you are already overwhelmed by trying to create a Facebook page or Twitter account, the idea of ‘augmented reality’ could be overwhelming. If you’ve seen actors in a movie point in the air and appear to open up documents that look as if they are floating in front of them, you’ve seen an example of this technology in action. A recent article in Open Forum from American Express describes the new Android from T-Mobile. It has a new reality application called Layar, which ‘will overlay additional information or data on the (phone’s) screen about objects’ around the user. Standing on a downtown street, wanting to find a restaurant? Hold up the phone in front of you like a camera and Layar will pull up information on the businesses located in the buildings around you. Consumers will love this because it makes finding locations instantaneous. Smart restaurateurs will make sure that their business is listed in Google Maps and that a current photo is uploaded so consumers can easily identify the building on-screen.

Lots of folks use Twitter to keep up with where their friends are. Now that GPS applications are standard on phones, users can keep track of friends’ and family’s whereabouts even faster. Another new application is FourSquare. This location-based service has an element of gaming. Users can earn points and unlock ‘badges’ for discovering a new restaurant or shop – and telling others about it. It’s gaining popularity in larger cities such as New York and Chicago.

What’s a restaurant operator to do?

Get your restaurant into the social media universe with these tips from Open Forum:
Visibility is key. Make sure your operation is listed and tagged on sites such as Google Maps and Yelp and iRaves.
Build an accurate customer list that includes e-mails. Basic, yes. But it’s amazing how many restaurants don’t have accurate lists and, worse, don’t use them if they do.
Create a customer community program. If you don’t have a fan page on Facebook or a Twitter feed, create them. Update frequently with promotions, messages and content that really promotes your operation and gets your customers talking about your restaurant online.
Embrace technology. After all, it’s not going away. Applications such as FourSquare and BrightKite represent opportunities to offer specials and promotions to new customers. Other applications to consider include: Google Latitude, Loopt and FireEagle.