Wingstop is jumping into social ordering, accepting orders within Facebook Messenger and Twitter after seeing strong growth in wing fans placing orders online.
The 900-restaurant chain is rolling out so-called social ordering, which allows patrons to place orders from within Facebook Messenger or Twitter rather than having to leave either app to place an order by phone or online.
"We're taking a giant leap forward in the restaurant business to allow people now to conversationally order their meal from us without ever leaving Twitter or Facebook," said Wingstop Chief Marketing Officer Flynn Dekker.
The additional ordering methods come as online ordering has been growing rapidly. Phone calls are still the main way Wingstop gets orders, followed by walk-ins and online orders. But at the end of the first quarter, more than 15% of orders were placed online through the chain's app, site or mobile version of the site, a gain of about 5 percentage points from the year before, Mr. Decker said.
Facebook Messenger users -- there are more than 900 million globally, and counting -- can send a message to Wingstop to begin a conversation that can include details such as store locations and orders. On Twitter, users can tweet "order" or "#order" to the company to start an order. Soon the system may serve up messages to prompt orders, such as if it sees a Twitter user posting about being hungry for Wingstop wings.
"In a sense, this is a social media hack," Mr. Dekker said of the overall social ordering process. "It really allows us to pinpoint, very surgically, guests who are ready to make that decision and we just have to give them a prompt."
Wingstop began promoting the process on Facebook and Twitter on Monday.
— Wingstop (@wingstop) June 6, 2016
Wingstop is working on the social ordering process with Conversable, which helps companies create automated chat experiences on messaging apps including Facebook Messenger and Twitter, as well as through Slack and SMS.
"There's a major commerce disruption coming where customers are going to interact with brands directly on the messaging apps we use every day," Conversable Co-Founder and CEO Ben Lamm said in a statement. "Wingstop's millennial audience is at the forefront of the messaging trend and our platform is enabling Wingstop to meet their customers in the channels where they already are."
Texas-based Conversable, co-founded by Mr. Lamm and Andrew Busey, began quietly and is getting some public attention this week as Wingstop's social ordering processes roll out.
Mr. Dekker said Wingstop looked at the success Domino's has had with various ordering techniques when thinking about the project.
"I think the gold standard in the restaurant business right now is Domino's. They've really hung their hat on being technology-forward and they've done a great job," Mr. Dekker said.
Still, there are major differences between ordering at the two chains. Domino's AnyWare ordering is based on an order saved to a user's profile and can be done with minimal interaction. Wingstop touts that its process is more dynamic, as users do not need an account and can modify their orders as they go. While Domino's has major delivery operations, placing a Wingstop order within a social channel will not bring it to the customer any faster. At some point, the person ordering via Facebook Messenger or Twitter will have to put down the phone and get to the store. Wingstop does not offer delivery, even though 75% of its orders are for carryout.
"As a brand, we do not believe in delivery as part of our brand promise today," Mr. Dekker said.
The additional ordering options come months before Wingstop, which works with Barkley on advertising, plans to increase its national advertising. Franchisees voted to increase the chain's national advertising fund earlier this year. Beginning in early 2017, that funding will mostly be spent on TV, where the brand has not been advertising nationally, along with increased digital spending.
Dallas-based Wingstop, which went public a year ago, has 900 locations including some international restaurants. The bulk of its restaurants are franchised locations in the United States. Wingstop said last month that first-quarter sales at longstanding U.S. locations rose 4.6%.