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Chili’s spices up sales via mobile ordering, loyalty integration

As more restaurant marketers understand the value – and necessity – of providing mobile ordering capabilities for time-strapped consumers, Chili’s Grill & Bar is raising the bar to another level by adding loyalty points as a payment option.

Chili’s is introducing a new mobile and online ordering platform, which will enable customers to use loyalty points to pay for to-go meals via its mobile application or site. The fast-casual dining chain is teaming up with ordering service solution Olo to power the rollout, set to occur in summer 2016.

“To-go ordering is the fastest growing part of our business and a significant percentage of guests order to go from their mobile devices,” said Wade Allen, vice president of digital innovation and guest experience at Chili’s, Dallas, TX. “By improving our online ordering platform, we see a direct correlation for higher sales due to an improved digital guest experience.”

Serving up sales
Chili’s is angling for a massive uptick in digital sales this year, as evidenced by its recent mobile-first initiatives. The collaboration with Olo highlights the brand’s desire to be seen as an appealing dining establishment for millennials, who are now more than ever accustomed to placing meal orders via smartphones and picking them up at a designated time.

Chili’s believes the partnership is a strategic investment in its to-go business, and will enhance the digital experience for guests wanting to order from their smartphones, tablets or desktop devices.

Consequently, the restaurant chain is attempting to lay a foundation for new mobile features that will augment the casual dining experience. This summer, it will implement Olo’s services into its current systems.

Olo’s online ordering platform contains features such as pre-order tools, payment flexibility and group order capabilities.

“The upgrade to Chili’s platform will enable a faster, more reliable, and more secure service and also add fully native mobile ordering that is more tightly integrated to its restaurant systems,” said Marty Hahnfeld, vice president of sales and marketing at Olo, New York. “It will also introduce new conveniences such as group ordering and the ability to split payments between gift and credit cards.”

Once the new platform has been rolled out, customers may access a new payment option, which will likely stir up interest among Chili’s competitors. Guests will be able to purchase to-go meals with their existing loyalty points if they order via Chili’s mobile app or

My Chili’s Rewards currently boasts 4.3 million members, who are able to control how and when they use their gift cards, loyalty points and coupons.

The loyalty integration offers significant implications for the casual dining sector. Customers who discover this option may demand to have the same payment ability at other restaurant chains, which could prompt those brands to hop on the bandwagon and join forces with third-party vendors.

Chili’s is also well-poised to experience a surge in sales following the introduction of the loyalty payment option. If a customer is wavering about spending money for a take-out lunch but then discovers he or she has enough loyalty points to cover the majority of the cost, he or she will be much more likely to proceed with the transaction.

“Without loyalty integration, Chili’s risks having its most loyal consumers stay on the sidelines digitally,” Mr. Hahnfeld said. “Simply, it helps create stickiness both inside and outside the restaurant.”

Raising digital hospitality
Chili’s has been engaging in a serious push toward mobile in the past year as it aims to bolster digital hospitality.

Last April, Chili’s served up a double helping of mobile with a new loyalty program that integrated with the chain’s order-and-pay tablets as well as a new service that texted guests when their reserved tables were ready (see story).

Customers can now find tabletop tablets at more than 70,000 of the brand’s locations nationwide. These tablets can be used to place in-restaurant orders and play interactive games while waiting for food to arrive.

Additionally, guests may use the Chili’s app to discover local wait times for a table and submit their name to be placed in a virtual line.

Other quick service restaurant brands have also been joining the fray when it comes to smartphone-enabled ordering.

West Coast-based sandwich chain Port of Subs unlocked a new Olo-powered app over the summer that enables loyal consumers to customize their favorite meals and place orders via mobile, underscoring the need for fast-casual restaurants to offer pay-now, pick-up-later options (see story).

“Digital ordering isn’t a ‘nice to have’ any longer, it’s on its way to becoming the dominant ordering channel for many restaurant brands,” Mr. Hahnfeld said. “Pizza took 15 years to go from 0 percent to 50 percent digital — we’re now witnessing a two-times acceleration in that rate for the non-pizza brands, with many of our clients now doubling (or more) their digital sales annually.”