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Operators keep online ordering options open

Operators keep online ordering options open

Asqew Grill dishes on how to tackle online ordering in a two-pronged approach

In an effort to help boost sales, foodservice chains are augmenting their private-label online-ordering systems by partnering with multi-brand order-aggregating Internet portals like and

Among the latest to go that route is the 569-unit Bob Evans Restaurants family-dining chain of Columbus, Ohio, and its sister 145-unit, casual-dining brand, Mimi’s Cafe of Irvine, Calif. Owned by Bob Evans Farms Inc. of Columbus, the two concepts use private-label online-ordering pages supported by Kudzu Interactive that are accessed from their proprietary websites.

Their restaurants also are part of the mix of more than 28,000 establishments in more than 2,200 cities from which consumers can order using Kudzu’s public portal.

The orders generated for Bob Evans Restaurants and Mimi’s Café on their own ordering pages and through go directly into the point-of-sale system of the appropriate restaurant relative to where the consumer is ordering from or from where they want to pick up their food.

Bob Evans Restaurants also opted to have Kudzu Interactive create branded iPhone and Android operating system smart phone software, or “mobile apps,” that customers can download and use to place orders when they are away from Web-connected personal computers.

Small guy gives strategy a try

But the private-label/public-portal strategy for online ordering appeals to both small and large chains, as is evident by Asqew Grill’s decision to go that route.

Founded in 1999, Asqew Grill, the four-unit, fast-casual chain based in San Francisco, features a core menu of grilled foods on skewers served over proprietary sides, as well as ribs, chicken and burgers. The chain targets a value-gourmet niche by offering the likes of an ahi tuna skewer with a soy-buerre blanc reduction over a bed of citrus couscous for $8.

“With Snapfinger behind this, pushing their mobile app and GPS capabilities, consumers can now see who is delivering in their neighborhood or is in their neighborhood for take-out or dine-in,” said Ari Feingold, Asqew Grill’s marketing consultant. “People who have never been to Asqew Grill now are finding us.”

Simpler, lower cost approach taken

To save money — and because order volumes are still relatively low at an average of about 63 per month per location — Asqew Grill is not yet integrating its online-order stream into store-level POS systems. Instead, Feingold said, the chain is receiving online order details via fax and manually entering the information into its POS system.

That arrangement may not prove practical in the long term, he added, as the number of online orders is growing significantly, rising 66 percent on a month-over-month basis in November without benefit of any significant in-house marketing.

Feingold said the West Coast operation opted to let mobile users access its ordering pages using Snapfinger’s generic mobile app, rather than commission an Asqew-branded version.

Boosting service as well as sales

Three Asqew Grill locations are in San Francisco, with the fourth across San Francisco Bay in Emeryville, Calif. The group’s per-person average is about $12, and takeout, delivery and catering sales generate from 20 percent to 30 percent of overall sales.

Asqew Grill, like many foodservice operations that add online ordering, enjoys higher average tickets among consumers who order using the Internet. “We average about $9 more per check for deliveries than eat-in,” Feingold said. “The overwhelming majority of our orders for delivery come in online.”

Feingold credits the higher check averages to the upsell prompts and “Add a drink?” inquiry programmed into the online ordering interface. “Everyone in the restaurant business has upsell programs, and we do our best to keep it going, but Snapfinger does it 100 percent of the time,” he said.

Apart from building incremental sales through higher average tickets and increasing convenience for take-out and delivery customers, Asqew Grill considers the development of online ordering a boon to in-store service.

“Taking orders off the phone and putting the process online enables our teams to really focus on guests in the restaurants,” Feingold said.

The tab and the tools

Without POS integration expenses, online ordering start-up costs were “minimal” and deployment took less than two months, Feingold said. Asqew Grill chose to pay Kudzu Interactive “a small commission” on each online order amounting to 5 percent to 7 percent of the order total, he said, adding, “That [commission] can be paid for with the upsell feature alone.”

Kudzu Interactive’s representatives said some chains, rather than pay a percentage of each order’s total, might opt to pay through another arrangement, such as a $50 per-unit per-month subscription and a per-order fee of 35 cents.

Feingold said the online ordering technology’s administrative tools make it easy to spot frequent online customers and update the menu displayed online to reflect specials or depleted inventory. E-mail addresses captured by the online ordering system as a condition of usage are easily imported into Asqew Grill’s marketing database, he added.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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