Panda Express rolled out mobile ordering Thursday to almost all of its more than 1,700 restaurants worldwide, joining the growing ranks of restaurant chains offering mobile and online ordering.
The Rosemead, Calif.-based chain, which is part of Panda Restaurant Group Inc., has been working on developing its smartphone app and online ordering experience for a few years. It began testing it last December.
Unlike most chains, Panda Express’ mobile app offers a feature that enables group ordering across multiple devices. The mom coming home from work, for example, can send family members a link that allows them to select their dishes, which then goes to the restaurant POS system as one order. Or office mates can put an order in collectively, with the option of choosing one designated person to pay, or each guest paying individually.
Guests can also pay ahead and pick up their orders without waiting in line.
The mobile app is available for both iOS and Android devices. Large group catering can also be ordered online through pandaexpress.com/orders.
In TV ads that start Monday, Panda Express paints the mobile/online ordering option as a modern-day dinner bell.
Dave Wallinga, vice president of guest marketing for Panda Restaurant Group, said the group order-ahead option was a vital component that touches on a key aspect of Chinese food, which has long been about sharing take-out boxes across a table.
“It’s so consistent with the nature of Chinese food, which we view as a shared experience,” he said. “It’s about streamlining mealtime to create an easier way for our guests to come together with their ‘family’ — in whatever form that might be — over a shared meal.”
Mobile and online ordering is becoming increasingly common across all restaurant segments. This year alone, Taco Bell, BJ’s, Dickey’s, Subway, Sonic Drive-In and Applebee’s are among chains that have launched mobile and online platforms or are in the process of developing one.
For Panda, the decision to make the significant investment for its almost all-corporate-owned system was to meet the needs of guests — especially busy families that use the fast-casual chain for home-meal replacement, as well as the younger, more tech-savvy customer demographic.
“We absolutely feel that’s what guests are expecting of us. When you look at Millennials and their buying habits, it just makes sense,” said Wallinga. “It becomes a ‘table-stakes’ investment.”
Panda Express worked with NovaDine, a Web technology company, to develop the ordering platform, which is integrated with the chain’s Xpient point-of-sale software system. Panda’s digital agency Dynamit helped customize the user-experience aspects.
“We didn’t want to design the entire process and build it from scratch ourselves, yet we didn’t find an off-the-shelf solution that was ready to go as is,” Wallinga said. “NovaDine worked very hard with us to get Panda online ordering exactly the way we wanted.”
The platform rollout comes as Panda Express explores other new initiatives. Earlier this year, the chain opened a new Panda Test Kitchen, which has become a living laboratory for new menu and service tests.
To encourage guests to try digital ordering, Panda Express also brought back its popular Honey Sesame Chicken Breast for a limited-time through the end of December.
This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: Sept. 15, 2014 An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated the number of Panda Express restaurants offering mobile and online ordering. Some international locations also offer it. In addition, the story has been updated to reflect Panda Express’ positioning as fast casual.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
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