As tabletop tablets and even smartphone ordering in restaurants climb their way up the adoption cycle, some restaurants and experts have voiced concerns about the lack of opportunity to upsell.

"[Restaurants] use that [face-to-face] opportunity at the table to drive up selling and ticket size, introducing tonight's specials or suggesting a wine pairing or appetizer to start,” Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer at Market Force, told FSR last week. “[With tablets] they do lose that opportunity."

How, then, can restaurants with digital ordering continue to upsell high-margin items without a waiter there to suggestively sell them? Cris Jucan says tablet and smartphone ordering is actually a strong opportunity for upselling.

Jucan is CEO of maegan, a mobile app that allows consumers to find restaurants, browse menus, and order and pay for meals. The idea, he says, is for restaurants that shift to tablet and smartphone ordering to have pages or widgets that pop up at the end of the ordering process and suggest adding a drink, dessert, appetizer, or other accoutrement to the meal.

"With one of the restaurants where we are running, we just turned on a feature that suggested a beverage when you place an order," Jucan says. "And we saw that 40 percent of consumers, they started ordering the drinks as well, as opposed to before, when—even though the drinks were available in the app—they were not ordering it."

The two items that restaurants want to upsell most are drinks, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic, and desserts. Both are high-margin items that are quick to serve, and restaurants are looking for a consistent way of pushing them, Jucan says.

"Today, restaurants have the waiter come to a table and suggest a drink or dessert, but typically for the waiter, based on our conversations with restaurant owners, they're not doing a good job at that," he explains. "They're busy, they have a lot of patrons, and the tips that they're going to make on those items is not relevant for the overall amount of tips they're going to receive. So, the incentive is not really there for the waiters. All the restaurants we talk to, they're really interested in having that digital channel where they can consistently relay those messages and upsell to consumers."

This week, Olive Garden noted that its redesigned website and the launch of its online To-Go ordering platform have actually yielded increased check averages, compared to orders that are placed on the phone. This signifies that guests will spend more if the ordering platform is catered to their needs, designed well, and suggestive.

As ordering technology advances, apps and programs will begin to learn consumers' dining preferences, from nutrition to diet and flavor profiles, Jucan says. Maegan, which launched in May sends customized offers from restaurants based on consumers' preferences and order history.

As mobile and digital ordering become more mainstream, the role of waiters will become more similar to a host rather than an order-taker, Jucan prophezies. Customers will also be more satisfied as tables turn 7-10 minutes faster, which is the average wait that consumers have to get their receipts and pay, Jucan says. Among all the advancements, the next big thing, he says, will be the integration of loyalty programs with tablets and digital apps.

By Sonya Chudgar

Industry News, Labor & Employees, Technology