Restaurants have invested in online ordering platforms, but customers are still calling in

By midmorning, the phone at Cou-Yon’s BBQ in Port Allen starts ringing, and it doesn’t let up until well past lunchtime. There’s a midafternoon pause in the action, but it’s short-lived. As the dinner hour approaches, the restaurant’s phone lines begin ringing nonstop again as customers call in to-go orders.

It doesn’t matter that the popular restaurant’s website, like scads of others in Greater Baton Rouge, has an online ordering platform intended to shorten the ordering experience. For many of Cou-Yon’s customers, ordering takeout means calling in, says owner and founder Paul A. Mladenka.

“Takeout is a huge part of our business, and a lot of our customers and the demographic we serve like to place phone orders,” Mladenka says. “Even though we’ve seen our online orders double since we started using that technology, we still receive hundreds of calls a day. During both lunch and dinner, I have someone who does nothing but answer the phone.”

A long-standing operational component in full-service restaurants, the phone has been essential in taking reservations, answering questions about table availability, and receiving takeout orders. But over the past decade, the push to shift to-go ordering and reservation requests to online platforms has many operators now balancing two distinct communication modes, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

The phone continues to provide a personal touch in a sector built on high-touch customer service, but its digital counterpart allows restaurants to receive and process to-go orders significantly faster and with fewer errors. It also enables restaurants to capture and manage customer data. And with labor shortages continuing to impact the industry, it’s more likely that new concepts, especially fast-casual ones, will try to steer customers toward online and app-based ordering and away from traditional phone lines.

Read the full story about how Baton Rouge-area restaurants are handling the customer service shift, from the latest edition of Business Report.