Making the exhaustive duties for restaurant employees a little faster and easier

Brooke Kao
Suitcase Words
6 min readJan 24, 2020


My role: User research and design

Team makeup: One product manager, four software engineers

What I did: Spearheaded user research (quantitative and qualitative), established sprint cadence, defined MVP solution, lead branding workshops, kicked off company design system, reviewed code, evangelized Design Thinking

Imagine that a restaurant takes online orders on their own website, as well as from the likes of Seamless, Grubhub, Caviar and more. Rather than forcing restaurant staff to deal with all these separate ordering platforms, Expo funnels all these ordering sources into one device. Expo is a responsive web app that streamlines online food ordering acceptance, management and troubleshooting.

Why do restaurant folks need order management?

Have you ever ordered takeout or delivery and thought about what it takes to get the food to you? The answer is quite a lot, with little reward.

Folks behind the counter (let’s call them the front-of-house) at major restaurant chains have a lot on their plate. They have to interact with customers, hand off food and troubleshoot orders in store, from the restaurant’s website, apps, and from the likes of Grubhub, Caviar, and more.

The front-of-house has no easy way to handle on-the-fly tasks like starting orders early, requesting deliveries and correcting order mistakes. To perform these tasks, they typically have to run to the back office. Most of the time, these tasks just don’t get done.

“Huge orders is when it gets crazy. No sense of make time and orders get backed up.” — Store Manager

Learning about the front-of-house user

We put significant legwork into user research during the discovery and prototyping phases to uncover who exactly we were building for and what their problems are.

Many site visits, contextual inquiries, design sprints and prototypes later, here are some major insights that governed our product thinking:

Device flexibility is key. We’re a white-label ordering provider, which means we’re ultimately putting our brands and their needs first. Many restaurants already had tablet devices in their restaurants. To respect their existing systems and technology, we opted for a responsive web app over native. This also sets us up to iterate and ship quickly.

Inform the problem, but don’t prescribe the solution. We experimented with being as step-by-step and action-oriented on Expo as possible. After all, we didn’t want to make our users think. Turns out, given a certain problem, different restaurants have different ways to deal with it. We’ve had to dial the content in a way that describes the situation at hand for the front-of-house worker, but enable restaurants to define the way they will handle it.

“Managers always tell us that orders are cancelled. I don’t have the assets.” — Front of house employee

People are always doing mental math. We wanted to learn how restaurant workers knew how to properly prepare for orders. We noticed that workers were often anxious about preparing large orders, but had different definitions for what constituted a “large order”. We made large orders configurable and explicit for the user, to avoid future surprises.

Strike a balance between helpfulness and information overload. Each online order has a lot of potential content to serve to the user. What content was absolutely necessarily to complete the order, and what was noise? We realized that the most important things to know are exceptions to the norm.

After making sense of the research and prioritizing a few major problems to solve, we ran a Design Sprint to define our MVP themes and major assumptions to explore.

The Output

Check out a prototype on Marvel!

User-centric branding

Mid-way through our prototyping phase, we received user feedback that the interfaces were “hard to focus” and “overwhelming”. We took this opportunity to conduct stakeholder branding workshops with Sales and Marketing to defining Expo’s brand. I took this opportunity to get Olo to think about and make intentional decisions about how we want our products to look, sound and feel.

Establishing design operations

Through Expo, we began to develop processes to make work easier and solve organization-wise design problems at Olo.

B2B user research recruiting: developed a cohort of stores that were friendly and willing to let us visit their stores. Also leveraged Zendesk tickets to explore the problem space better.

Making sense of data: used Reframer to capture and tag insights for later searching and justifying design decisions

Disparate user experiences across products: worked with engineers to identify a list of shareable components across Expo and our white label ordering. Created a living style guide as groundwork for future products.

The Outcomes

Expo is set to launch in October 2018.

From a user standpoint: Decrease order cancellations and modifications, and raise customer satisfaction scores from regular NPS surveys.

From a business standpoint: Accelerate the process to onboard and train a new restaurant brand, particularly one in the “quick service” realm (think Wendy’s, KFC, etc).



Brooke Kao
Suitcase Words

NYC based Researcher and Strategist // @brookekao