Merchant: The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
Location: San Francisco, California
Platforms: ChowNow, Facebook, Postmates, Yelp
Bottom Line: Customers who order online visit more frequently than those who don’t, and the percentage of guests who fall into this category is growing each year.
Cold-calling techniques have a notoriously low success rate for hyperlocal vendors trying to onboard new merchants, but it was an unsolicited drop-in that led to The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen’s three-year relationship with ChowNow, an online ordering system and marketing platform for restaurants.
“Chris Webb, the CEO, literally walked into my kitchen on one of our busiest days in history,” says Nate Pollak, owner of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, with multiple locations in the San Francisco area. “I was helping our kitchen assemble and cook pre-arranged office catering orders that we had managed over email. He explained to me, in the middle of all the chaos, how ChowNow could help our customers pre-book catering orders and order in advance. It was perfect timing.”
The timing worked out in ChowNow’s favor because Pollak had already been under pressure from his customers to start accepting pick-up orders in a way that was more efficient than telephone or email. He says his catering customers also wanted a way to order in advance and not have to say their credit card numbers over the phone.
Despite the push from his customers, Pollak says it wasn’t an easy sell, and Webb’s pitch about rising demand for pre-ordering solutions only increased his primary concerns.
“We were too busy at the time to even handle all of our in-store orders. We were afraid of bottlenecking our kitchen,” Pollak says.
Still, Pollak had the nagging sense that online ordering was something his customers wanted, and he agreed to give it a try. Specifically, he says the ability to proactively manage orders and pickup times and set realistic expectations for his customers was what led him to select ChowNow over competing online ordering solutions.
“We were also very interested in a system that allowed our customers to customize their order,” he says. “That’s a huge part of our average ticket amount — customized order add-ons.”
Now, when a customer orders from his or her mobile device, desktop computer, or through Facebook, Pollak’s kitchen receives the order and confirms the pickup or delivery time. His staff then inputs the order into the POS, so a ticket is created and the order is tracked. Pollak says it takes “30 seconds extra, tops” to handle online orders, which is a significant savings over the time it used to take to accept orders by phone, email, or fax.
Today, five to 15 percent of orders at The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen come through its mobile ordering system. That figure has increased over time. Pollak also has discovered that customers are most likely to order pickups during the workday, and that ChowNow customers tend to come in more frequently, even compared to his restaurant’s walk-in regulars.
“The platform saves their regular order, their preferred location, and all their payment information. Being a regular customer just got easier for them,” he says. “We see them, on average, one time more each week than our walk-in regulars.”
Pollak is taking advantage of the analytics tools that ChowNow provides to track the lifetime value of customers who’ve ordered through the platform. He has customers who’ve spent thousands of dollars on grilled cheese sandwiches in just the past three years since he started accepting online orders.
Integration also has played an important role in the success of online ordering at The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. Pollak has placed his restaurant’s menu on Facebook, since he uses the social media platform “heavily” for marketing and communicating brand presence. He’s seen additional traffic and orders generated since integrating ChowNow with his restaurant’s Yelp pages, and he says he’s requiring some of his delivery partners, such as Postmates, to exclusively order through the ChowNow platform.
“This creates a simple and easy order management process,” Pollak says. “And [it’s] a nice way to track our partners’ orders.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.