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3 restaurant CIOs discuss latest tech innovations

3 restaurant CIOs discuss latest tech innovations

Technology executives discuss what's behind digital moves at Hooters, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza.

The race for the next digital platform in the restaurant industry continues apace, not only in the pizza segment — where much of the innovation around online ordering and digital communication has occurred — but also in casual dining and quick service.
The chief information officers of three national brands — Hooters, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza — all stressed that, while it is important to develop “disruptive” technology, their recently introduced platforms could not disrupt operations and had to clearly add value for customers and the brand.

They recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about their latest digital offerings.

Hooters is testing a digital-loyalty app in Atlanta.

Hooters’ loyalty program, HootClub

Now in its 30th year, Atlanta-based Hooters has been through several iterations of a loyalty club, including a paper punch card and a personal swipe card. But the growing sophistication surrounding Big Data has led to HootClub, the brand’s digital-loyalty app that’s being tested in Atlanta.

Through the app, Hooters now can glean more insight into what customers value by tracking their purchase behavior and their social actions, and the chain with 345 domestic locations also has the opportunity to start sending more targeted, personalized offers and messages to fans, said chief information officer Chris Duncan.

Over “lots of sleepless nights” in seven months, Hooters took the idea for the digital loyalty app from concept to its current test in the Atlanta market, Duncan said. Customers track and redeem their rewards with the app by entering codes from Hooters receipts. That action then enters the customer into sweepstakes for prizes like a trip to the next UFC fight in Las Vegas, activates free-food offers, and pushes the members’ activity to digital leaderboards.

“We’re not creating an airline loyalty program model, where you just amass millions of points,” Duncan said. “Using the app can be like putting your name in the hat to win really good rewards, and later on we can do serialized giveaways like tickets to Braves or Falcons games — small, local perks to capitalize on the surprise and delight model.”

Hooters might use the app and its leaderboards for more exclusive messaging to people through the chain’s fantasy football network or to guests interested in voting in the Miss Hooters International Swimsuit Pageant.

The added value for customers: “If I’m an Atlanta Falcons fan, I probably wouldn’t mind if Hooters sent me a reminder to watch the game Sunday night at Hooters,” Duncan said. “If we can get away from just email blasts to something serialized that is always applicable with a meaningful reason to come in — an event or a specific promotion — it meets the need to better communicate with customers. It lets us talk to different guests differently.”

The added value for Hooters: “You hear the buzzwords ‘Big Data’ all the time, and what it means is the ability to coordinate data points across multiple sources to really get to know the person on the other end, even if you don’t know his name or address,” Duncan said. “It was all accretive to service. Once [the Atlanta] test is complete, from there it’s as easy as publicizing it in POP and POS, table tents, and then moving it out of the current email club database. As we continue to develop, it’ll become integral to everything we do.”

Pizza Hut's relaunched website

(Continued from page 1)

For Pizza Hut, the division of Yum! Brands Inc. with more than 13,000 restaurants worldwide and more than 6,200 units in the United States, desktop-based online ordering still accounts for half of digital sales.

“That said, we recognize the consumer behavior is shifting quickly toward mobile, so that’s where we’ve continued to lead the way with new apps and sites last year,” chief digital officer Baron Concors said. But the desktop site “still has a key role in our business,” he added, especially with the upgrades launched April 25 that bear a greater resemblance to Pizza Hut’s mobile website or its ordering app on the XBox Live digital gaming network.

Pizza Hut has redesigned its website.

Plano, Texas-based Pizza Hut revamped the “pizza builder” interface to make constructing a pie more fun for guests. The online-ordering site was also built to allow more functionality with promotional partners that Pizza Hut could add in later, Concors said.

The added value for consumers: “Everything we did was led by the consumer,” Concors said, “so the builder was enhanced so that consumers could have a more interactive experience when ordering online. All of our changes were led by consumer insights we garnered, which is why we’ve improved speed, ease, clear navigation, and transparency on deals and pricing. We brought many consumers through to test the site, and we enhanced it continuously until they said it was clearly the best.”

The added value for Pizza Hut: “We have implemented new technologies that make it easy for us to partner with other leading brands to drive traffic and provide an innovative customer experience,” Concors said. “We are very excited about the partnerships we have in the works to leverage these new technologies and will share those updates once the partnerships are finalized.”

Domino's new iPad ordering app

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Like Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza has spent the past few years building up its digital-ordering channels to a multichannel platform that now generates close to half of all the brand’s sales. On Monday, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based chain released an ordering app for the Apple iPad that contains several new features, including a 3D animated pizza builder.

Chief information officer Kevin Vasconi called the 3D pizza builder on the app “the coolest technology we have launched since Domino’s Tracker,” which also happens to be featured prominently on the iPad platform. In addition to the visual experience, Domino’s new app also has a geolocation function that automatically finds the closest Domino’s store for placing an order, as well as the Pizza Profile feature that saves customers’ past orders and payment information for even faster ordering.

Domino's iPad app features a 3D pizza builder.

Domino’s has nearly 5,000 locations in the United States and more than 5,500 restaurants in 70 international markets.

The added value for consumers: “The added value for the customer is really in the experience,” Vasconi said. “Not just the visual experience, which is pretty amazing, but also the ability to explore more of our menu, which is one of the things digital allows for so much richer than an over-the-phone ordering experience can.”

The added value for Domino’s: “We believe a terrific experience on our digital-ordering platforms is what will increase downloads, ticket, usage and all of that good stuff,” Vasconi said. “Certainly the new iPad app offers an unprecedented Domino’s experience.”

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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