No one revels in the failure of a new technology in UK hospitality – particularly one that was once hailed the saviour of the British pub. Orderella’s premise was simple – beat the queues by letting your phone do the ordering work for you at the touch of a button. But the company has had to call time on operations after accruing £2m of losses. 

Whereas the app’s goal was to offer simple Uber-like convenience to users at their tables, the behind-the-scenes reality is likely a very different story. Vast complexity exists when “external” payment apps must harmonise with existing payment systems and operations. Added to that, the app itself must be easy to sign up to, reliable, bug-free and not attract a service charge to appear attractive to consumers and, crucially, be habit-forming. The challenges for an app such as Orderella to succeed were two-fold – operational and customer-led.

The operational challenges include:

  • Constantly changing menus (new drinks, menu items and prices) means the app would constantly need to be updated with the changes, as well as keeping track of promotions. Added to that there are the challenges of drinks that are out of stock.
  • In many cases it would require a second back-end system (given it accepts payments), so staff might need to enter the order into the till themselves (as if someone had physically ordered at the bar). This can also lead to a degree of employee resistance and process inefficiency.

The customer challenges include:

  • Downloading the app, paying for it, setting up details – the process is a perceived hassle (“by the time I have downloaded it I could have picked up the first round of drinks”). 
  • Some of the reviews of the app itself talk about staff not understanding or being aware of the app. With high staff turnover this problem would inevitably persist on most estates.
  • Venues could potentially not accept it so it doesn’t become a habit because of its ad hoc usage (versus, say, more universal contactless payment that has fast become ubiquitous).

While this mixture of proposition challenges have likely led to Orderella’s failure, in a nation driven by convenience, I believe there is still real potential in the market place – including for those customers with physical disabilities who could be served, hassle-free, direct at their table.

By taking a look at the best-in-class operators that lead the way in this space, you can see where that potential lies. JD Wetherspoon (full estate), McDonald’s (currently trialling) and, purely from a payment perspective, Flypay (which works with many casual dining players), all offer a seamless experience through their apps.

Take Wetherspoon’s, for example. Its app works well for the following reasons:

  • It’s a free “in-house” branded app that draws on and builds immediate trust from consumers. A trust for the brand equals trust for the app.
  • There’s never a service charge so the experience is just like ordering at the bar.
  • It’s fully integrated into operations (all staff would be trained on it and back-end systems harmonised as if ordered at the bar).
  • There’s a genuine consumer benefit, which makes it ideal if you’re dining alone and don’t want to lose the table or perhaps leave a young family. This isn’t unique to Wetherspoon’s of course but the app does rather cleverly mention these.

Perhaps the scale of the task was too ambitious for an app such as Orderella. Or maybe the consumer problem it sought to solve was not actually that big in the first instance (other than on a busy Saturday night)? Having said that, as the Wetherspoon example shows, there’s certainly an opportunity for a middle ground. Something that starts small and focused – perhaps regionally – and proves itself in a defined area first, ironing out operational niggles before expansion.

While queuing is still seen as a British pursuit (Wimbledon is just around the corner, as if we needed reminding!), enjoying a round of drinks in a beer garden, hassle-free, can surely only enhance the great British pub experience.

Originally featured on Propel Friday Opinion.