Grilled Cheese Meets Mobile Payment Technology

By | Jun 18, 2012

A midsize restaurant company, The Melt, owned by Jonathan Kaplan, successfully melds grilled cheese sandwiches and mobile payment technology. And it may well be the technology-driven model for future fast-casual dining businesses or possibly for selling other kinds of goods or services as well. According to an article in USA Today, customers may pre-order and pay online or with a smart phone, and receive a quick-response (QR) code that they scan at a kiosk once they arrive at any of the restaurant's locations. Only after the QR code is scanned at the restaurant is the order prepared.The concept is different from, say, ordering chain restaurant pizza online, where the customer must specify the restaurant location where he plans to pick up his order.

Kaplan's company has fully 20% of its 100 employees working on the technology side of the business. An article in Mobile Payments Today describes part of the technology concept: Once customers arrive at the restaurant, they scan their QR code at a kiosk, bypassing any lines. Orders are displayed in the restaurant on-screen so that customers can follow their progress, and once the order is ready, the display alerts the customer to pick the order up.

The novelty of this tech-driven quick service experience will surely create a higher level of customer engagement, particularly while competitors lack such bells and whistles. But it is the technology platform, the backbone of Kaplan's concept, which will garner the most attention from midsize IT shops. The pre-order system provides the company with a better way to track customer preferences along with location-based information (where the customer lives and how far he is willing to travel to get to the restaurant)--all things that IT analysts in similar businesses find useful in understanding the customer base, the parameters of customer preferences, and how best to drive marketing efforts and track their results. It is certainly less intrusive than the ubiquitous customer survey.

Although customer engagement is often measured through social media channels, Kaplan's model may provide an advantage in that a restaurant promotion, whether through social or through direct marketing by email or app, can immediately be acted on by the customer with an order placement. For restaurant owners, this means that marketing efforts have a bigger potential to result in sales even before the customer sets foot in the store.

For midsize businesses, what this all suggests is that a broader view of IT will be needed, one that goes beyond supply chain management and point-of-sales systems. Analytics becomes more important because the customer sales data will exist, will come from more sources, and will be tied to specific marketing efforts and customer behaviors.

As The Melt restaurant chain expands, it will be interesting to see if the technology will scale up and if this particular implementation of mobile payment will catch on and become the standard in quick-service restaurants. If it does, it could mean a new way for IT to approach business analytics in that industry. If the platform can be generalized such that it could be ported to other industries, it could also mean a surge in the need for IT analysts to manage the integration efforts and the data flow and analytics needs that will most certainly result.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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