Olo Review

Olo offers Software-as-a-Service that delivers advanced digital ordering for restaurants, and the company handles all the technical details for online and mobile ordering so that restaurant managers can concentrate in their core responsibilities — preparing food and making customers happy. The only catch is that the service is currently available only to multiunit restaurants with 10 or more locations.

Olo History and Profile

Founder and CEO Noah Glass predicted the trend that mobile ordering on smartphones would become popular with consumers and founded Olo in 2005 when only 5 percent of phones had smartphone capabilities. Olo, which simply stands for online ordering, began as consumer-oriented service but quickly switched focus to become a business-to-business platform. Chain restaurants across the country responded well to the new business model and proprietary software because the system speeded service, reduced staffing needs and decreased errors in restaurant orders.

Restaurant ordering from mobile phones has become quite common since Olo began business because more than 75 percent of mobile phones now have smartphone capability. More than 150 national chains now use Olo’s ordering platform including restaurants like Chipotle, Noodles, Starbucks, Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Baskin-Robbins, Cold Stone Creamery, Veggie Grill, Fazoli’s and many others.

Headquartered in New York City, Olo began serving restaurants in the metropolitan New York market and quickly expanded to other cities. The company was first called GoMobo, but the name was changed to Olo in 2010. At first, growth was slow, and the company didn’t attract one million users until 2012. However, Olo crashed through benchmarks at an exponential rate after reaching that first major milestone. By the end of 2012, 4 million people were ordering restaurant food on Olo software. The company claimed more than 8 million users by the end of 2014 and topped 14 million users in 2015. Other company operational milestones include:

  • Olo has raised more than $23.5 million dollars from multiple corporate and private investors including restaurateur Danny Meyer who founded Shake Shack.
  • The company processes more half a billion dollars annually.
  • More than 10,000 restaurant locations use the company’s SaaS platform.
  • Olo partnered with GrubHub in 2011 to include its customers on GrubHub’s ordering platform, which sent more than $2 billion in orders to restaurants in 2014.

The latest advance at Olo is its new service called Dispatch that allows restaurants to synchronize kitchen orders with available delivery vendors for instant service. Developed with key business and investment partners, Dispatch promises to revolutionize food delivery for restaurants. The service was introduced in response to the increasing consumer trend of ordering food delivery, a habit that’s nearly doubled in popularity during the last five years. Olo’s Dispatch doesn’t provide delivery itself but coordinates deliveries among popular providers like Postmates, Caviar, OrderUp, DoorDash and others. In many ways, the service is like Uber for restaurant food deliveries.

How Dispatch Integrates with Your Olo Ordering System

Olo consumer users in qualified areas can visit a participating restaurant’s website and place their orders as usual but select “Delivery” at checkout. The restaurant doesn’t need an existing delivery arrangement for deliveries but can treat the order like a carryout order.

  1. The customer pays for the order on their app or website.
  2. The customer supplies the delivery address.
  3. Dispatch supplies one or more delivery times and price quotes that depend on each available courier and its policies.
  4. Guests can track their deliveries from the restaurant’s app or ordering website.

How Olo Works for Restaurants

Olo’s intuitive software integrates seamlessly with the technology of restaurant point-of-sale providers, CRM systems and loyalty programs, even when the chains have multiple POS providers and off-POS software. Olo software also integrates with KDS and back-of-the-house systems. Other features of Olo’s SaaS platform include:

  • The architecture is open so that restaurants aren’t locked-into vendors and other restaurant partnerships.
  • You can control your operation at every level from individual stores to the whole business.
  • An administrative dashboard provides intuitive, user-friendly control and visibility of what’s happening at each location.
  • The software mimics the suggestive-selling abilities of the best restaurant servers by recommending upgrades and add-ons that increase check sizes by an average of 20 percent.
  • You can add new revenue streams seamlessly into your operation, such as meal delivery by courier using the recently added Dispatch service.
  • Olo’s ability to enable customers to “Skip the Line” helps to maximize income per square foot of restaurant space.
  • Restaurants can use Olo’s Web and mobile apps or integrate their existing apps and technology with the Olo platform.
  • Olo invests in the latest technology to keep your ordering platform up and running, and these features include scalable architectures, self-healing redundancies, 24/7 monitoring and PCI DSS Level-1 certification.

Olo Effectiveness

Customers are delighted with the software, according to internal studies, and guest checks are higher for online and mobile ordering for multiunit restaurants that switch to the platform. Online orders average 20 percent higher totals with the software’s upselling features. Restaurants are also featured on GrubHub’s popular ordering platform, which increases orders and sales totals.
Few restaurant chains operate all units to their full capacities, but if your operations are close to maximum output, then the costs of using Olo’s SaaS system could reduce existing profits without providing commensurate increases in business. Other factors to consider are the costs of hiring more people to handle increased online business. Restaurateurs should always consider the following pros and cons of using any ordering system:

  • Can your restaurant handle additional business during prime dining times?
  • Will you have access to online behavioral data to use for marketing purposes?
  • What are the costs of developing an in-house ordering system?
  • Will an ordering service increase your marketing reach?
  • What are the fees and commissions of using an online and mobile ordering provider?
  • Does an outside ordering system offer other operational and financial benefits to mitigate its costs?

For most chain restaurants, Olo has proven to be an effective system because it integrates well with existing technology, provides advanced ordering apps when needed, upsells orders to increase guest check amounts and speeds service during the busiest times to increase table turnovers and carryout and delivery sales.

Comparison of Olo to Other Ordering Platforms

Any online ordering platform, including a website ordering widget, is a potential rival to Olo’s services. However, if you own more than 10 restaurants and don’t have a coordinated and efficient ordering system, simple widgets can’t easily divide territories, assign different delivery options or provide the degree of upselling and cross-selling that Olo delivers. The biggest competitors for Olo that provide outsourced online ordering services include:

  • Seamless and GrubHub: Although these companies have merged, each continues to operate independently for consumers who can place orders directly for thousands of restaurants. Despite Olo’s partnership with the company, restaurateurs can choose to use Seamless or GrubHub for their online ordering needs. The big plus for these and other competitors is that most offer online ordering for single-location restaurants.
  • Tillster: This San Diego-based mobile commerce company specializes in the fast food and fast casual sectors. The company combined the resources of EMN8 and its subsidiary Snapfinger to offer restaurants multiple online ordering and customer-engagement programs.
  • ChowNow: This service offers restaurants the ability to take orders from their websites, smartphone apps and Facebook pages. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the company has partnered with Yelp, Uber, Google, Apple and other top names in online services.
  • Splickit: Split it, get it delivered or pick it up, Splickit empowers your customer to order online or from branded mobile apps, split checks, use multiple payment options and integrate third-party providers (like sending a meal and flowers). Featuring online and mobile ordering for restaurants, hotels, airports and campus-based businesses, the platform can easily accommodate restaurants with multiple locations.
  • MenuDrive: This online ordering system makes it easy for you to put your menu in front of mobile searchers using any kind of device. Advocates suggest that their prices are very reasonable, and the company’s services include a loyalty ordering program and automated marketing to encourage sales.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Using Olo Ordering

Guests check totals increase; off-premises orders increase; and tables turn faster with Olo’s proprietary ordering system. Most restaurant chains benefit by partnering with Olo — financially, operationally and in increased customer satisfaction. You can collect your payments in advance to eliminate no-shows for takeout orders and in-house dining for customers who place their orders before they arrive. However, these benefits won’t apply to all restaurants, so you need to consider the volume of your units, their seating capacity, your profit margin, menu prices and other factors when choosing an ordering system.

Once you establish a working system in-house, you’ll never have to pay commissions or monthly fees for your online ordering. However, the costs of developing an intuitive and effective system can be more than a small restaurant chain is willing to pay. There’s always the possibility that your system won’t be able to handle the volume, complexities or variability of rapid changes caused by seasonal demand or unexpected events.

Concluding Thoughts

There’s no single “correct” platform for handling your online ordering, and depending on your restaurant chain’s volume, it could be beneficial to design a proprietary system. Costs and features vary with each service, but Olo seems to hit all the major touchstones for an off-premises online ordering provider.

What We Like

We like Olo’s commitment to making online ordering easier for both consumers and restaurants and the fact that Olo concentrates on important features like upselling and suggestive selling that other ordering systems seldom offer. We like how easy it is to integrate your existing systems into Olo’s open architecture.

What We Don’t Like

We wish that Olo was available for independent operators with only one or fewer than 10 locations.

Final Assessment

Olo seems to work closely with its clients and partners to provide new opportunities for them. The company’s well-conceived and technologically advanced platform seems to handle the worrisome details of online ordering so that staff members can deliver better guest experiences to each customer.