Applebee’s no longer wants to take your takeout calls

He wants to outsource these orders to call centers, where an automated person or system will take your orders and also try to sell yourself a little.

More than half of Applebee’s roughly 1,575 US locations already use call centers for phone orders, according to the company. By the end of the year, Applebee’s wants most of its restaurants on board.

“I would like to have, in an ideal world, almost everyone [restaurants] use the call center,” Applebee President John Cywinski told CNN Business in a recent interview. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t call your local Applebee if you have questions about, for example, the occupation of the site.In these cases, someone from the restaurant will be there to pick you up.

It may seem odd that restaurants direct phone orders to third parties. But they are exploring the option as the industry struggles to staff its restaurants and the number of phone orders increases.

Telephone orders on the rise

Onosys, a software company that helps restaurant chains implement digital ordering systems, is getting far more call center inquiries than before.

Last year, only about 5% of new customers were interested in the service, said Ryan Younker, chief technology officer of Onosys. But over the past six to 12 months, “at least 25% of our incoming questions … are either just for a call center or for online ordering and call center,” he said. declared.

A few things are pushing restaurants to consider outsourcing their phone orders.

First, there is the surge in demand for take-out meals. During the pandemic, customers have switched to delivery and pickup, and many have stuck with the habit. Most people who order takeout use an app or website to place those orders, but not everyone does.

Over the past year, about 8% of restaurant consumers surveyed by restaurant consulting firm Technomic said they placed an order over the phone, double those who said they did so before the pandemic.

“The phone is still a relatively common way for consumers to order, especially for takeout and especially if they want to work directly with the restaurant,” said David Henkes, senior manager at Technomic.

And then there’s the fact that the restaurants are still understaffed. The National Restaurant Association said bars and restaurants lost 794,000 jobs in April compared to before the pandemic, a drop of about 6.4%.
“Any role you can think of in a restaurant – there are shortages,” Henkes said. Without enough people working, each employee takes on more responsibilities. Taking calls adds more stress to an already difficult job. “Often this person [answering the phone] juggles two or three other jobs,” he says.
Domino's turns to call centers.
Dominoes (DPZ), for example, recently said it was grappling with an industry-wide driver shortage. It’s using call centers to help, as they “will allow stores to focus on production and delivery when they’re short-staffed during peak hours,” CEO Russell Weiner said on the call. ‘april.

Applebee is not trying to solve an immediate crisis. Staffing has reached pre-pandemic levels, according to the brand. And Applebee started working with outside call centers more than three years ago, even before the pandemic hit.

But call centers allow “our team members to really focus on restaurant execution and restaurant-level execution,” Cywinski said. “I’m always a little scared of team members rushing out to dinner…have to stop what they’re doing in the restaurant to pick up a phone and take an order.”

Outsourcing calls “improves our efficiency and improves the customer experience,” he said. “It’s worth it, if you think about the opportunity cost of a dropped call or a busy team member putting a guest on hold.”

Ideally, from a brand perspective, customers shouldn’t even realize they’re not talking to an Applebee employee.

Or if they do, it’s only because the experience is better.

Thanks for calling Applebee

So what’s it like to call an Applebee and reach out to a call center?

On Thursday afternoon, Applebee’s executive director of communications, Melissa Hariri, called an Applebee’s location with a call center to show me how it works. I stayed on the line, muted, while she placed her order, first with an automated system and then with a person.

Hariri called the restaurant and hit number two to place her control using automation. After stating each item, a robotic female voice repeated it, asking what else she would like.

At “kid’s hamburger”, however, the smooth running of the process ran into a problem. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t add a kid’s burger as it’s not an option at this location. If you need it, you can always ask to be connected to a rep for more help” , said the machine. Hariri continued with his order.

Right after hanging up, Hariri called back, this time asking to speak to an agent. He was calm and courteous. There was no background noise and Hariri was never put on hold.

Hariri scanned his list again. When she arrived at the child’s burger, the officer asked her if she wanted it with or without cheese. She specified – no cheese – and he continued. After a few more items, Hariri asked the agent if the kid’s burger was available at the restaurant. He claimed that was.

Later, Hariri looked into the kid’s burger gap and learned that the restaurant really doesn’t have a kid’s burger on the menu. But there was a kid’s cheeseburger.

The agent knew that a cheeseburger without cheese is a hamburger. The machine, apparently, did not. “Our team is looking to improve that on the automated side,” Hariri said.

So it always pays to talk to a person sometimes.

About Jonathan Bell

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