Imagine ordering food for curbside pickup and then having it ready and waiting precisely when you arrive. That’s how Vancouver-based fast food chain Burgerville is pitching its new partnership with the mobile app FlyBuy Pickup. The service debuted at Burgerville restaurants last week.
Burgerville operates about 40 restaurants in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Like many businesses, the company had to substantially expand its fledgling digital presence during the COVID-19 pandemic. FlyBuy integration is the latest in a series of technology investments intended to make up for the closure of the fast food chain’s dining rooms.
As recently as a year ago, nearly all Burgerville traffic came from the drive-thru lanes and dining counters. Digital order options were available, according to Chief Operating Officer Kati Reardon, but only accounted for 2 or 3 percent of the company’s total orders in February 2020.
Dining rooms accounted for as much as 30 percent of business pre-pandemic, so the company moved quickly to promote its curbside pickup and delivery options (through DoorDash) in March 2020. It was also about relieving pressure, Reardon said; drive-thrus are convenient, but trying to funnel every customer through a single lane is a recipe for delayed orders and traffic backups.
“We knew that our drive-thrus were going to be near-impossible to manage if we didn’t have a digital component,” she said.
Depending on the location, as many as 17 percent of Burgerville orders are digital today, Reardon said. She described the integration of FlyBuy as the latest piece of a yearlong effort to scale up and perfect the service model.
When customers place an order through the Burgerville app, they’ll receive a text prompting them to download FlyBuy and tap an “I’m on my way” button when they leave. A display at the restaurant gives the kitchen crew a real-time arrival estimate and notifies staff when the customer parks so that the food can be walked out immediately.
The arrival dashboard also helps restaurant staff know exactly when to begin preparing individual orders, she said, to avoid situations where customers take longer than expected to pick up their digital orders and arrive to find their food has been ready for several minutes.
The company also introduced a beefed-up version of its loyalty program in December, with new reward options and more integration with the Burgerville app. Reardon said the expansion was fast-tracked last year because the company needed a new way to promote community engagement without its dining rooms. The program has racked up about 50,000 members so far, she said.
The shift from dining rooms to digital orders came with casualties; the company laid off about 600 workers across all of its locations in April — more than a third of its pre-pandemic workforce.
Roughly 100 of those positions have been rehired, Reardon said, and the company is expecting to add more staff as it heads into the traditionally busy summer months. But a full return won’t happen until the dining rooms reopen.
That’s still a long way off. Reardon said customers can expect to see Burgerville locations open up their patios or debut walk-up windows during the summer, but a full reopening of all of the dining rooms likely won’t come until late 2021.
The challenge when reopening the dining rooms will be to adjust services and workflow for a “three-legged stool” model (dine-in, drive-thru and curbside or delivery) for the first time, she said, and to maintain the same service quality across all three channels.
For the moment, Burgerville is going to focus on digital growth and preparing for the spring and summer. This month marks the company’s 60th anniversary, Reardon said, and the company’s leaders are happy to have made it through the pandemic to celebrate it.
“A year ago, when I was sitting with how to operationalize being in a pandemic, we weren’t sure we’d be here,” she said. “Just full stop, we weren’t sure if we’d survive.”