The Case for Centralized Services

Written by: By Richard Hodges, VP, Operations Services – La Madeleine, and member, Off-Premise Industry Council

Everyone is familiar with the traditional model for off premise orders: call your local restaurant, place an order with an on-site employee, and head in 15-30 minutes later to pick up your order. Obviously, the world of traditional “take out” has changed. For over 10 years we have seen the birth of an entirely new segment of our restaurant business: off-premise.

One of the signature Top 5 Pillars for Successful Restaurant Takeout, Delivery and Catering is the move to centralized services. Call centers and digital ordering vehicles are replacing the traditional models for ordering, pick-up, delivery, and catering, with the vast array of opportunities for sales through off premise channels.

The first, and perhaps greatest challenge to the change from traditional models to centralized services is abating the fear of inviting third-party vendors into the guest service experience.

According to Richard Hodges, VP of Operations Services from la Madeleine:

“I often heard from our operators, ‘No one can take care of my guests as well as my own associates’ when we first brought on board a third-party call center. It took several years to appreciate that a call center agent can learn our menu as well we do, has their focus on the order process without the in-restaurant distractions, and can often say ‘Bonjour’ just as well we can.”

The returns for la Madeleine in investing in a call center in 2008 were many. Order accuracy improvement, and higher check average and guest satisfaction were easier to measure. There were more returns like, through put capacity, labor savings, and operational efficiencies, such as allowing the in-restaurant employee to focus on just the order process for the guests within the restaurant and the production process for those orders.

For years, operators challenged their staff to answer the phone in a timely manner. The challenge during peak times is still a real one, but there is a viable solution. The ability to engage a guest online or via a call center when our operators are taking care of guests within their four walls, is not just incremental sales, but the capture of potential lost sales opportunities.

According to Barbara Blackwell, Director of Catering for Chicken Salad Chick, and a veteran in off premise sales with brands such as Corner Bakery Cafe and Bruegger’s Bagels:

“As a leader in the restaurant catering space, it is critical that I have complete visibility into all aspects of the business. The centralized catering business model provides this visibility. A Call center partnership positions us to provide a consistent level of service to meet our consumer’s needs, while increasing our average check through suggestive selling. The model lets the operators concentrate on execution and providing consistent service and food quality to our consumers.”

As Blackwell points out, the data capture and sales management opportunities of centralized services are not only advantageous because of a call center, but centralized services via the systems, software and centralized data. Centralized services open the door to new avenues to manage sales teams, target guests or clients more specifically, and compile data that can be acted upon more easily than a single associate in a café entering an order into a POS.

Centralized services in the digital world through integrated systems enables more ordering channels and guest access to the brand. Mobile ordering, apps, web-based market place ordering or even traditional online ordering are the trending preferences of our guests. Today, an order placed through YELP or third-party delivery companies can be as easy to execute operationally as a traditional phone ahead order.

Centralized services create all these advantages in data mining, analysis, tracking, and systems efficiencies, all without an in-house associate taking an order over the phone.

The scalability of centralized services for a restaurant company provides an economy of investment. The initial investment to set up these process, systems and resources may seem daunting, but as a brand grows the incremental cost of scaling for a centralized model, adding a few more agents is minor compared to the in house labor of the traditional model. The system costs for scaling up are even less.

The key to the cost efficiencies and sales opportunities are in the initial investment in centralized services and commitment to its ongoing maintenance. As a brand evolves with new offerings and initiatives, centralized services must be maintained, enhanced and optimized to meet the needs of the business and its guests. Mr. Hodges adds:

“A few years after we started using a call center for our take-out orders, la Madeleine began an intentional B2B focused catering program. We treated catering as a brand new roll out for our call center with on-site training, tasting and regular follow ups with our Off Premise Sales team. The call center is now an integral part of catering order process for many of our orders, allowing our sales teams to focus on client management and prospecting for new clients. We believe this has led to our sixth straight year of double digit positive sales growth in catering.”

For many companies, adopting the centralized service model as a part of their off premise strategies succeeds when they are willing to commit to the initial investment and commit the necessary resources. Centralized services cannot be just a corporate objective for a fiscal year. A familiar attribute for successful off premise sales is a dedicated off premise leader with full executive support that together can influence the DNA of a brand to embrace and adopt the critical elements of off premise strategies. With integrated systems, committed resources, and a driven leader, the centralized service model can be a tremendous success for almost any brand.

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