More Restaurants Allow Customers To Order Online

Restaurant researchers have found that a growing number of restaurants are taking orders online. Pizza and sandwich chains are leading the charge, but there's another big winner: websites that let you order whatever it is you're craving.

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You know, sometimes you just want to order in. But you don't want to have to explain that order it again and again to the person on the other end of this phone who's taking three or more orders at the same time. Well, rest assured, more and more businesses feel your pain.

As Emma Jacobs reports, restaurants are trying to make the ordering process easier by letting customers to everything online.

EMMA JACOBS: Last year, Jeremiah Carpenter decided his Papa John's franchise in upstate New York wasn't doing enough business for the Super Bowl. So he started a special offer: Any large pizza for $10 on game day. This year, he says Papa John's ran the special nationally.

Mr. JEREMIAH CARPENTER (Manager, Papa John's Pizza): I don't want to say they copied me, but they copied me. OK?

JACOBS: Carpenter has been in a pitched creative battle for customers with other local pizza chains.

Mr. CARPENTER: We're kind of in the middle of what we call the pizza wars, like everyone is fighting. You know? Everyone is doing this who's giving the best value.

JACOBS: But Carpenter thinks he's pulling ahead, maybe in part because customers can click on his local specials right on Papa John's website. Customers can place their order online and the orders code straight to monitors in Carpenter's kitchen.

Mr. CARPENTER: It lets the customer see what they want, get what they want. They get more consistent experience. We can focus more on making the pies, getting them out the door, taking care of that stuff for the customers.

JACOBS: One of those patrons, Krista Kermidas, stops in for a pickup. She made her order earlier in the day from her smartphone.

Ms. KRISTA KERMIDAS: When I'm on the go and I try and cram a whole bunch of things in, and I'm a single mom, and so the app is right there on my phone. And I can just go to it and put it in. And I don't have to worry about, well, shoot, what's Papa John's phone number?

JACOBS: About a third of Carpenter's customers now order from the Web. He's an enthusiastic early adopter. He's actually working on a program to run the whole store from his iPad. But a growing number of restaurateurs seem to be catching up with Carpenter's enthusiasm for technology.

Sherri Kimes is a professor at Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Her latest study shows a quarter of chain restaurants and more than half of pizza and sandwich shops now take online orders.

Professor SHERRI KIMES (School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University): Kind of makes you look at it and go, wow. I mean, what's - you know, this is a lot more than what I thought was going on.

JACOBS: About half of customers have ordered food online. Kimes says doing online ordering well and early has helped chains like Papa John's pull in more patrons.

Prof. KIMES: Most restaurants in the U.S. are aware of this now. And it's just a matter of trying to figure out, okay, how can we best do this, because there are some operational and cost issues associated with it as well.

JACOBS: Restaurants are just setting up their own systems. They're also joining multi-restaurant sites, like Snapfinger and GrubHub, that let any restaurant uploads its menu. While most of Carpenter's orders come from Papa John's website, another set comes from a site called CampusFood.com, which is targeting target college towns.

Mr. MIKE SAUNDERS (Founder and President, CampusFood.com): And you don't want to have, you know, 50 different logins for your 50 different restaurants.

JACOBS: Mike Saunders is the founder of Campus Food. It's one of a slew of sites competing to be the online middlemen for takeout.

Mr. SAUNDERS: Why would I go to PapaJohns.com or Dominoes.com? Ultimately, you know, there needs to be the Amazon of food.

JACOBS: Saunders says multi-restaurants sights also offer more to a huge part of the market, smaller chains and restaurants that can't afford to set up their own secure ordering site.

Researcher Sherri Kimes agrees online ordering will grow. But she expects the final frontier may be on Facebook. Nearly all the restaurants she looked at were on Facebook, only a handful took orders through the site.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs.

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