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Online Service Brings Restaurant Ordering to Next Level

While more diners are turning to the Internet to make their orders, a West Hills-based restaurant concept development and consulting company has taken the practice of online ordering a step further. The Next Idea and its Website and software development company TNI Technology have developed a software program called Next On The Go that serves as a multiple-restaurant, one-stop-shop portal that rewards customers for their business with dining perks and no service charges. The program’s Web site allows customers to order takeout from various restaurants and pay in advance, rack up loyalty points with each order, purchase single gift cards acceptable at all the participating eateries and use live online chat for customer support. The restaurants, which are charged a fee for the software program, get to use the system to update their online menus and specials in real-time and receive direct feedback from customers. About a dozen restaurants in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles area have already signed up to use the program, set to launch in about a month, said Robert Ancill, owner of The Next Idea. “We’ve done a test with about 20 different restaurants at different levels … to really test out the software,” Ancill said of the service that is being launched first in the Los Angeles-area market. “It’s been quite positive. “The consumer is looking for convenience. … Whenever you’re dealing with takeout food, if there’s any way you can avoid having to come in, wait in line and pay, you’re going to take that option,” he added. Next On The Go is the first in a series of consumer innovation projects to be developed by TNI Technology for The Next Idea over the next couple of years, he added said. In past projects, The Next Idea has worked with retail food companies in the United States, Dubai, the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, India and other countries. Besides restaurants, the company works with catering companies, hotels, supermarkets and food manufacturers. Customer loyalty While online food ordering is not a new concept, a multiple-restaurant platform that offers services for free to the customer is, Ancill said. The customer rewards are also another distinguishing factor, he added. “We’re offering some services that typically are not available,” Ancill said. Lisa Van Gorp, a private restaurant marketing consultant with six San Fernando Valley-based clients who were involved in a six-week test phase of the product, agrees. “There are a lot of people out there who do have similar software, but the biggest factor, the point that stood out with The Next Idea, was the loyalty program,” Van Gorp said of the system that allows customers to earn dining credit when they earn enough points through online ordering. “In this day and age with the down economy, it’s really important to keep your customers engaged.” Van Gorp added that while only one client in the testing process officially signed up, others expressed strong interest. She also said the prices restaurants are charged are reasonable, so the system is accessible to smaller restaurants that generally don’t have the funds to support strong marketing departments. Charges range from about $30 to $75 monthly fees per location, based on the level of services provided. Restaurants also have the option to pay the company to set up their menus. A growing market Ancill said his company is developing the product because online ordering is a market expected to experience a lot of growth in the next 10 years. “People are using it habitually,” Ancill said, adding that online ordering started about 10 years ago but has become more prominent in the past five years or so. “It’s quite a young market. It’s also been driven by mobile technology at the moment.”

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