Tom Kaiser, right, and Nicholas Upton kicked off the fifth annual Food On Demand Conference today in Las Vegas with a run-through of the industry’s biggest news.

“I want what I want when I want it.” That’s the mantra of today’s food consumer, and helping operators fulfill that demand is the rallying cry of the fifth annual Food On Demand Conference opening today at the Mirage in Las Vegas. “This year we’re going deeper into the weeds,” said Food On Demand Editor Tom Kaiser to kick off the conference.

Kaiser means deeper into the weeds of operations, advanced technology and ways operators can identify “customer lifetime value” and reach guests with the best “digital hospitality experience,” two other buzz phrases that will receive attention at FODC this year.

Noah Glass, founder and CEO of Olo, described “this paradigm shift for marketing to not be box-based or market-based but to be customer-based” as critically important. He sees “restaurant marketers shifting their thinking toward customer lifetime value; how they don’t think as much about who signed up for the loyalty program is the most importance audience, but think about who is the greatest lifetime value customer as the most importance audience.”

Two men engage in conversation sitting on the conference stage.

“Everybody finally realizes this is a mission-critical part of their business,” said Noah Glass, founder and CEO of Olo, right, in the opening keynote Q&A at the Food On Demand Conference.

Added Glass: “It’s really informing every facet of the restaurant enterprise through the lens of customer lifetime value. That is the big paradigm shift. This is something that restaurants are just starting to evolve into, and that will be a fascinating thing to witness.”

Olo, which provides software-as-a-service powering digital offerings for restaurants, went public in March 2021, raising $450 million. Food On Demand Technology Editor Nicholas Upton asked why Glass chose that moment in a volatile time, with COVID-19 and its attendant confusion still raging.

“We were hoping to go public in 2020, and we were preparing for it. I remember saying to the Olo board: this is the time. I don’t want to ever have a customer wonder, is Olo going to be around a year from now? Are they a viable business? These are things we heard all the time,” Glass said.

“I said to the board, if we’re going to be a mission-critical platform for our restaurant customers, we need to make a statement, and there’s no better way of doing that than by going public, having audited financials out there, showing that we’re a profitable business…and making the statement we are going to be an independent platform for the long term.”

Olo’s stock price closed at $11.14 per share May 4, down from $30.07 on November 8, 2021.

Olo started as a text-to-order platform, Upton noted, and now sits at the heart of tens of thousands of restaurant systems. “You’ve been at this before it was cool, for 17 years,” Upton said. What’s changed?

“It’s sort of an arc of mission-criticality of everything that really everybody in this room does,” Glass said. “In the early days, with text message ordering and showing a demo, I remember the guy was startled and said, ‘that’s magic.’ For a long time it felt like a toy or a game. What we’ve seen during these last few years…during the height of COVID it became mission-critical, and finally, everybody finally realizes this is a mission-critical part of their business.”

Glass recalled when pandemic-related shutdowns began in the United States, on March 13, 2020. “So many restaurants over the past two years have said, ‘this was our lifeline, what you and others have done for us. We wouldn’t have been able to remain in business.’ That’s really hit us in a different way, a little bit of an additional sense of purpose, of mission. It’s been very meaningful to hear that. We’ve played this mission-critical role in an almost trillion-dollar industry.”

Asked by Upton about Olo’s acquisition of Wisely, in November 2021, Glass said the Wisely suite aims to broaden the conversation to include “digital hospitality, allowing brands to understand their business in a new way, by fully understanding lifetime customer value. It’s very hard for restaurants to know that without a powerful platform like Wisely in place.”

The fifth annual Food On Demand Conference continues May 4-6 at the Mirage in Las Vegas. See the full agenda here.