In the recent years a number of businesses have endeavored to answer to consumer demand for faster fast food. What could possibly be faster than food prepared in advance kept under a heat lamp and dispensed through a drive-through window? You might ask “Haven’t we degraded the American diet sufficiently by catering to the mobile community at the expense of the American family sharing food at their own dining table?” There are apparently some people who have devised a plan to address those concerns.
I first caught wind of the change a few years ago immediately following the advent of online ordering and purchase of goods and services. I’ve since seen the advent of websites like Amazon, Overstock, eBay and the like. Food stores, department stores and independent retailers jumped on the Internet sales floor and began processing orders. In most cases, payment was also handled online. Purchasing food online through local grocery stores made a strong appearance in urban settings where transit commuters had trouble bringing the food onboard.
The number of online shoppers increased and the variety of opportunities evolved. It seemed inevitable that online ordering would migrate to the Food Service Industry. I imagined a day when I could pull up a restaurant website on my computer at work, choose food for my family, establish a time for pick up and pre-pay with my credit card. I’d never need to phone the restaurant and wait on hold for a server to take my food order. And, then I dreamed, of pulling into the parking lot and having my food hot, bagged and brought to my car. It would not be at all like pulling out money sitting in my car at the drive-through window at the local burger joint hoping that all my food was in the bag while I counted my change. Online food ordering and prepayment would be a “step above”.
I thought of the many restaurant chains that I enjoyed visiting when I had time to sit in their dining rooms. My tastes in restaurant food varied from Olive Garden to Outback Steakhouse, from Applebee’s to Chevy’s. In a perfect world, I could just imagine the ease of after-work-meal-preparation if all I needed to do was to point, click, and pickup prepared food for my family. Some of these chains even added “curbside-to-go” or “take-out to your car” convenience. They invested in special equipment to video-monitor designated parking spots and alert restaurant personnel of the customer arrival. This was great for the big fish but the little independents are still waiting for their solution.
It would seem now, that I was not the only person dreaming of the day. I can’t remember which came first so I’ll mention only a couple providers here based on their page placement using a popular online search engine.
Big Holler catches my attention every time I research this topic. They cite the same statistics I’ve researched. “According to the National Restaurant Association 45% of 25-to-34-year-olds have used the Internet to find out information about a restaurant they have not patronized before. 58% of restaurants sales are takeout and nearly half of all table service operators are reporting that takeout represents a larger proportion of their total sales compared to two years ago. One out of three consumers have used curbside takeout at a table service restaurant.” Big Holler attempts to capitalize on established facts coupled with current trends in the food serviceindustry. They market their system to restaurants wishing to “grow their business”. Increased sales in a competitive food service market are fought for and providers like Big Holler give restaurants the opportunity to tab a wider market by providing online menu with point and click ordering.
On the other hand, I was insulted the first time I ran across Campus Food, Simple Dine and other providers that target the college market. I am far older than college students and I want the convenience they’re getting. I have a family to feed! Who needs online food ordering more than the taxi-driving-soccer-mom at the end of her workday or the working couple who are too tired to cook? Sure, students are on a tight schedule and are almost always online. Students are more likely to shop online and pay online. The young adult generation isn’t wary about computers and electronic transactions. It seems elementary to target that market. Especially since most students are indoctrinated in fast food. Occasionally, they’ll opt for fast casual food if the choice doesn’t waste their time. Coast to coast, college campuses are served by restaurants using online ordering and pre-payment. The American economy ensures the inevitability of the older generation quickly coming around to online ordering of restaurant food too.
As gas prices increase and family budgets are stretched to their limits, the opportunity to attract the family diners is coming into it’s own. Most American families rely on two parents to provide the income. In many ways, the family is spending less and less time devoted to household tasks, like cooking food. More and more often, the preparation of nutritional and tasty food is being left to the professionals. When it comes to online ordering software, restaurant owners have a wide variety of providers to choose from and an even wider range of costs. Much research will be required to filter out the amateurs from the professionals in website design and order processing providers.
This is one case where I am convinced that “if we build it, they will come.” Americans are quickly becoming accustomed to purchasing online and are using their convenience of online payment services. As for online ordering of prepared food from my favorite restaurants, I’m convinced that when I need them, they’ll be there.