December 9, 2022

Subway’s New Tech Chief Eyes Mobile Customer Experience

Subway is looking to rewire its mobile-ordering technology and processes to improve customer experience amid a surge of digital sales, its new technology chief said.

The restaurant chain tapped Donagh Herlihy as its global chief digital and information officer earlier this month, a role that entails overseeing internal and external-facing information-technology systems.

Mr. Herlihy said his priorities include determining how tech can be used to better manage the flow of digital ordering at its franchised restaurants—from the use of the Subway app to third-party delivery companies—the use of which all have exploded over the past year.

“If you’re standing in line, and you’ve been there 10 minutes,” he said, “and then suddenly a digital order comes in—and you see the sandwich artist turn away and start working on that and slotting that in front of orders that are being placed in person—that’s not a good experience.”

Subway said its digital sales, which include orders made through its app, jumped to 12.2% of total sales at the end of 2020 from 3.6% at the end of 2019. Today, the figure is about 15%, the company said.

Donagh Herlihy, global chief digital and information officer at Subway



Photo:

Donagh Herlihy

The company said it has nearly 37,000 franchised restaurants worldwide, including 22,000 in the U.S.

Other restaurants also face an uptick in digital orders, which have coalesced with in-person orders at locations that weren’t originally designed to handle both, said Max Hammond, senior director and research analyst focusing on quick service restaurants at IT research and consulting firm

Gartner Inc.

Mr. Herlihy said he plans on collaborating with his peers who run operations, store layout, menus and other aspects of the business to explore ways tech can improve service times and customer satisfaction.

Personalization will be crucial for quick service restaurants such as Subway, said Brendan Witcher, a principal analyst focusing on digital strategy at

Forrester Research Inc.

This is because the mobile ordering experience across the sector tends to be poor, with overwhelming menu options as well as promotions that aren’t universally accepted at each location.

The issues can be exacerbated for companies with large numbers of franchisees, who might have different technology systems or even menu items depending on the franchisee. “I would compare the Subway model closer to a 7-Eleven than I would compare them to a

Starbucks,

” which he described as having an online ordering model that is simple and convenient.

Mr. Herlihy previously was chief information officer at

Bloomin’ Brands Inc.,

the parent company of restaurant chains such as Outback Steakhouse. He previously spent more than two decades in digital and e-commerce leadership positions at companies including Avon Products Inc. and the Wrigley Co.

He replaces Mike Macrie, Subway’s former CIO, who joined the company in 2019 and left in March 2021 to pursue other interests, Mr. Macrie posted on LinkedIn. Mr. Macrie didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

Write to Jared Council at [email protected]

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