Stolen Orders: The Secret of the Foodservice Industry

by | May 18, 2023 | Blogs, Restaurant

by Ashley McNamara, Vice President, Global Marketing

Stolen Orders Blog

I spend a lot of time talking with restaurant and foodservice operators, and hear stories about all kinds of challenges they face. However, most of them don’t want to talk about the elephant in the room: order theft. In fact, when I bring up the subject, it’s often… crickets—but their faces say it all.

I don’t blame them. Brands want to focus on hospitality and great experiences, not the harsh realities of customer theft. It’s rarely discussed except outside the industry. Operators are uncomfortable talking about losing tens of thousands of dollars a year to petty thieves who walk in and swipe someone else’s meal from the pickup shelf.

Of course, it’s not always theft. Sometimes it’s just human error. A customer, (we’ll call him Mike) orders online, goes to the pickup shelf, glances at the receipts to find his name, and grabs the first bag he sees with his name on it. Back at his desk 10 minutes later, he realizes he has an order for a different Mike. Mike #1 isn’t happy, and he doesn’t like onions on his sandwich. When Mike #2 shows up, he’s annoyed to find his order missing, and worried that he’s now going to be late while he waits as employees rush to remake the order for him.

It’s a frustrating problem that can drive away customers who’ve had the bad luck to experience this. It’s also an expensive problem, because many restaurants try to solve the problem by adding labor, which only further decreases their margins on takeout and delivery orders.

Recently, a colleague sent me a photo from a local restaurant that posted a sign to let drivers know their orders are behind the counter and to check in with an employee. If you were a driver, imagine the sinking feeling you’d get when you saw that sign, because it tells you this pickup is going to be a hassle and take a long time. And of course, they’d think twice about choosing to accept a delivery order from there next time.

What we know about order theft and errors

These incidents happen because handing off orders from a pickup shelf is inherently risky. There’s no security, no technology, no data, and no control.

Despite most people’s reluctance to talk about it, we’ve had candid conversations with restaurant brands and noncommercial operators. In these confidential talks, they’ve told us that pickup shelf theft and errors cost them roughly 6 to 8 lost orders a day, per location. At a QSR format, at roughly $12 to $14 an order, this can average $100 a day or more in lost and stolen orders. Most of these require remakes, creating an even bigger hit to operating margins.

Of course, the damage caused by stolen orders ripples across multiple areas of the operation. Order remakes increase labor costs because, in simple terms, the employee is doing the same work twice. However, it’s usually more disruptive the second time. That’s when the manager has to pull the employee away from preparing incoming orders to quickly remake the lost order, a disruption that results in delays for other customers down the line.

Stolen orders also have serious consequences for customer satisfaction. When a customer orders ahead and arrives to find their order is missing, they’re obviously not happy. However, that single negative experience also shows up later when operators notice that return frequency has dropped due to negative reviews on social media and by word of mouth.

In fact, we have reports from several QSR customers whose annual cost of remakes and lost sales was upwards of $20,000 per year. This comes off the top of already thin margins for off-premises orders, which have higher costs due to third-party delivery fees and commissions.

That’s what brings many of them to Apex to learn more about OrderHQ™ Smart Food Lockers.

Getting control of off-premises orders

Ideally, once an off-premises order is complete, you want to avoid any additional time or energy put into it, because that’s further diluting the margins for the restaurant operator. The operator’s goal is to have a very efficient, secure, and automated way to transfer that order to the person picking it up, whether it’s the end customer or the delivery service driver.

Apex has been focused on this scenario for more than 17 years, and we’ve found that the best option is to automate the order handoff/expo process. Apex OrderHQ™ Smart Food Lockers keep orders secure and ensure each order goes to the right customer or delivery driver – with pickup in less than 10 seconds. They integrate with the existing tech stack for seamless operation, enabling a complete digital order chain of custody, with data from the moment the order is placed, across multiple points of preparation, and until the time it’s picked up.

Automating order handoff also allows employees to focus on things that make a real difference to customers – like a pleasant greeting, helping them and suggesting upsells as they order, preparing orders, and generally making sure customers have a good experience inside the restaurant.

Have you experienced this? Send me an email and let’s talk soon. I’ll explain how Apex Smart Food Lockers solve the order security problem for less than the cost of a few remakes per week.