With Online Ordering, Your Cashiers Can No Longer Cover For You

Written by Todd L. Michaud
March 4th, 2010

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

“You’re just putting lipstick on a pig.” I love that saying. In fact, it was my first thought when we started looking at implementing online ordering for our brands.

What many restaurant chains don’t realize, however, is that by implementing online ordering, they are exposing their menu system to consumers for the first time. This may not seem like a big deal. But in all the concepts that I have worked on over the years, the actual menu architecture has been both very flawed and typically “covered up” by the restaurant’s crew, who knows how to work around its challenges.

Just one small example: I had a large group of restaurants use the “No – Add Ketchup” modifier for about 3 years. The crew understood this to mean “No Ketchup.” A customer, meanwhile, would look at the receipt and say, “But I don’t want any ketchup!”

Such a system obviously can’t be unleashed on the Internet. Consumers will not tolerate a system that is difficult to use. And it’s exactly why I won’t order a pizza online from Papa John’s. For chains, the challenges often come from tracking data in one way while marketing/selling it in another. A good example is “combo” meals. (“What product[s] is the combo discount being applied to?”)

Add to that the complexity of each franchisee having unique, local store marketing offers and the responsibility for its own pricing, and what seems very simple can quickly become very complex.

The benefits of implementing a solid online ordering solution can be huge. At the recent FS/TEC conference, several IT leaders indicated that their online ordering had average guest checks that were 30 to 70 percent higher than the in-store counterparts. That means the stakes for getting such a system right are very high.

Even if your current POS menu is a beautiful piece of art, at a minimum it means that your POS team has yet another menu to update whenever a new marketing window or change comes along. So now the team has to update the current POS menu, the menu on the two legacy POS platforms and the online ordering system. Stop laughing. I can dream of a day with only two legacy platforms.

It also means that 86ing an item becomes far more formal than many restaurants are used to. Someone had better remember to update the Web site, or you are bound to have an upset customer.

The ultimate solution is to integrate the POS database menu and the online ordering menu with one master database/menu. That way, the menu administrator simply adds the new item to a master system and it automatically replicates to the appropriate POS platform on the correct panel and populates online in the right way. Further, if the restaurant inventory is integrated with the online ordering system, it automatically 86s products as they are depleted, or close to depleted, from inventory.

Sorry, I was daydreaming again. What was I saying?

Until that “dream day” comes, when implementing your online ordering system, I recommend the following activities:

  • Take the time to do a “spring cleaning” on your PLUs. Sometimes, they can be hard to get rid of. Take this opportunity to remove items that are no longer in use and aren’t expected to be.
  • Build a solid process that ensures the online menu is updated at the same time as the POS menu. This approach is especially important if your online ordering provider manages your online menu. Protect yourself from Software-As-A-Service Side Effects.
  • Take a hard look at your modifiers and make sure they still fit the current menu. Just like PLUs, modifiers can sometimes hang around past their useful life.
  • Use the online ordering implementation as an excuse to reconcile your coupons, discounts and promotions. Depending on how strictly your organization has managed these items in the past, you may find a lot of duplicates and overlap.
  • Consider crowd-sourcing your menu to the crew, both POS and online.
  • Might as well go ahead and get yourself a Homewrecker to get you through all this tough work.

In short, you really don’t ever want to put lipstick on a pig, even if your system thinks it’s barbecue sauce on spareribs.

What do you think? Love it or hate it, I’d love to gain some additional perspectives. Leave a comment, or E-mail me at


2 Comments | Read With Online Ordering, Your Cashiers Can No Longer Cover For You

  1. Dan Veronese Says:


    Thank you for the post. You make some excellent points to be sure. It’s great to see some dialogue about the operational aspects of online ordering.

    The obvious benefits of adding online ordering to a restaurant’s site is to open the “doors” for business so to speak. That said, there are some ins and outs that are important with regard to the operations and efficiency of not only the ordering, but fulfillment and efficiency of the program.

    You’re right regarding the modifiers as well and POS integration. While a POS is designed for a tactile response, the online ordering site must be intuitive and guide the guest through the various modifiers and up sell opportunities and many times the “lingo” from the internal operations won’t work for the guests. Such as “heavy” for condiments or “four-top”, etc.

    It’s important that any provider work with their clients to insure the guest experience is as close to the in-store experience as possible, so descriptions of all menu items are clear and simple-and can be executed properly during the fulfillment. We sometimes recommend that clients begin with a simple to-go menu which may help the guests as they begin using online ordering and simplify the process. We can always continue to add and build the menu of course.

    With POS integration, we have performed many of these-over 10 complete integrations-and while we pull the menu from the POS, the descriptions are not going to be as enticing-IE: “brown sauce” in the POS would maybe be “savory homemade beef sauce” or something like that. As for 86’ing an item, we have a specific tool on the BOH that is live and a manager can click into to manage out of stock items, increase prep/delivery times and even turn off OLO if they become too busy to accept orders. We’ve found this tool very effective because the managers do not have to actually go into the admin site or log in to make these types of changes.

    It’s critical that any online provider understands the nuances of the various menus and process in order to help build check averages. (I’m not sure about 70% though to be honest.) One item that is very important-for everyone’s sake-is that any integration has a consistent and simple structure from which to build the integration. While we build each store individually to allow for different tax rates or items, without a “core” menu, the integration and menu management can become very hard to maintain or manage.

    That said, when changes are made to the menu in the POS, a real integration will make the changes on the site as well during the next sync, so there shouldn’t be a need to make the changes more than once. This should be allowed at either a local, regional or global level as well. The only time I suggest someone get in there (and we offer the ability to do this either in house or via our operations team) is when a new menu item is added. Then the descriptions will be accurate and enticing.

    Thanks again for the column and discussion. I’m very happy to see more and more people talking about the value and efficiency of a real online ordering program from an experienced provider from just putting food online or “lipstick on a pig!” Dan

  2. Noah Glass Says:

    There are a lot of online ordering salesmen out there who promise full POS-integration, when all they really execute is one-way order transmission to the POS. True integration should be a two-way street, including both order transmission and menu extraction. Menu extraction means that your online menu is updated in real-time when an item is 86’d or turned back on. Dan gets it absolutely right on when your online menu needs the human touch. No customer wants to see “BRGR” when they are perusing your online menu. They want the proper name for the product, the same description they get on the paper menu, and maybe even an image. Once that “consumer layer” is put on top, you have translated POS-speak into consumer-speak.

    There is no doubt that this level of POS-integration is the “ultimate solution.” There is no doubt that all online ordering service providers should strive to make this “ultimate solution” a reality for each restaurant chain. Still, what about those pesky legacy POS platforms you mention? I have yet to meet a national restaurant chain with all of its stores on the same POS platform and version. The “ultimate solution” is not the only solution. As Voltaire said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Many restaurant chains hesitate to implement online ordering because of the “yet another menu to update” philosophy. Still, one cannot ignore the fact that online ordering now accounts for over 20% of sales for several national restaurant chains. I would argue that the cost of waiting to implement online ordering most likely outweighs the cost of updating one more menu per marketing window.

    One approach could be to use a new, POS-independent device to receive and accept online orders. A cell phone-sized mobile device could bolt onto the cash register or countertop, and ring, buzz, and flash when a new order arrived, without requiring a separate phone line or Internet connection. This approach could just meet the needs of those restaurant executives who want to increase takeout sales by implementing online ordering now, not when pigs fly (lipstick or no lipstick).


    Noah Glass is the Chief Executive Officer of GoMobo Online Ordering


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.