In all sectors of the retail industry, businesses are scrambling to implement digital initiatives that cater to customers’ personal expectations and make for a quick and easy store visit. In fact, personalization topped all other digital transformations as the top marketing strategy being pursued by retail executives in an eMarketer report released earlier this year.
Restaurants are no exception. Street Fight recently checked in with Darryl Nagao, a franchise partner running thirty-three Moe’s locations, to find out how this fast-casual chain is leveraging digital technologies to deliver the culinary variety of a fast-casual along with the efficiency of a QSR.
Lindsay Haynes, PR manager at Focus Brands, also joined in on the call.
How many stores do you run, and how long have you been working with Moe’s?
I have two partners, Brad Chasteen and Steve Foss. We’ve been in the system from almost the very beginning. We all signed up back in around 2002. We’ve been involved in every aspect of the business. We started off learning how to roll the burritos. Now we’re just overseeing the development of the stores. Steve handles all the operations, Brad oversees the financial aspects, and I oversee the growth.
We just opened our 33rd restaurant as of yesterday in Jacksonville. We also have stores up in the DC market. The majority of our stores are down in Northern Florida.
Tell me about the digital strategies you’re implementing at Moe’s.
What we’re really pushing right now is doing these free-standing Moe’s locations with the touchscreen drive-thru. We opened our first one in Jacksonville about two years ago. It really took off. We’re seeing a large percentage of our customers coming back and using the system. It’s been very exciting for our customers. In this day and age, people are ordering the same thing over and over again. They want something quick that helps expedite the service. So they can come up to the touchscreen, it recalls their orders, they say they want the same thing, and we get them through the line a lot quicker.
Does the kiosk system also take down customer data that can be channeled into other marketing tactics?
Not at this time. This is a fairly new technology we’re using. There’s not a lot of restaurants out there that are using this. More and more restaurants are starting to use it. It’s a sign of the times.
We have a separate loyalty program that we use. At this time, we’re just learning how we can use this and are making sure that we’re keeping our customers happy. It’s our customers who are telling us what they want. Our customers want to customize their orders, they’re in a rush, they have kids, they want to get their orders quickly, and this allows them to do that.
Is there any way to gauge customer satisfaction with the kiosk or any other digital initiatives taken at your stores? Do you solicit feedback?
We have through Moe’s corporate our Moe Gotta Know channel. Customers can go online and discuss what they want. We hear a lot of positive things and a lot of things that can help us improve our system. It’s not currently on a touchscreen.
What are the challenges of and barriers to keeping up with the latest digital innovations going on in the industry?
Things are moving so quickly nowadays. This is a new marketing platform that we’re using to get more customers in there. There’s a number of other things; we have our rocking rewards program, for example.
Down the road, the challenge is trying to keep up with that technology. It’s training our employees how to teach the customers, especially customers who aren’t so technologically savvy. We have our iPads, and we go out there and show them how to do it. For the first 30 days we have a person standing by the kiosk and training them how to do it. Each time someone is standing out there and talking to the customers, they’re telling us different things that they want, and we go back to the company and tell them what needs to change to expedite it. There are constant changes and updates to the system.
My partner Brad’s vision is down the road, when the customer pulls into the parking lot, there’s a beacon system where it notifies us that a customer has pulled in, here’s their order, we grab the food, and we already have it made for them. The kiosk is the first step for now in getting the customer what they want, in customizing and getting it to them quicker.
How does Moe’s compare to a quick-serve restaurant?
Darryl: We get the food out to you quickly. But it’s not like some of the massive food restaurants. You’re not limited on what you can order. We can customize it any way you want, and we can get creative, not just what’s on the menu.
Lindsay: Moe’s is a fast-casual restaurant, versus QSR.
I was wondering, fast-casual versus QSR, does the kiosk, which allows customers to order efficiently, help Moe’s also get the food to customers quickly the way a QSR might?
Lindsay: It’s interesting — the majority of the Moe’s portfolio doesn’t have drive-thrus. Building new restaurants with drive-thrus, especially with this technology, it’s new for us, and we’re seeing that it’s something our customers love. It’s just a quicker and more convenient way to get our food.
Darryl: We’re seeing more and more customers come through the drive-thru. It’s almost like having another restaurant.
Joseph Zappa is news editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.