3 Reasons Why Mobile Apps Are Essential in the Restaurant Business

We take it for granted now that major consumer brands have mobile apps, but do they make sense for restaurants? If you own or manage a restaurant franchise, what exactly is the value of going mobile?  

I’d sum it up this way: you build a mobile app so you can be on hand, on demand and on everyone’s mind. You do these three things so you provide better service, attract more visitors and sell more food.

With the creative license to describe my ‘dream’ restaurant app, I’ll discuss what we can expect from restaurant apps in the coming years and illustrate why a restaurant would be foolish not to have one.   

1. On Hand 

On the Internet, your restaurant gives up control over information for greater visibility. Customers usually know more about you than you know about them. Mobile apps level this playing field.

The most basic purpose of the app is to give customers accurate information about your restaurants. You provide the menu, hours, nearest locations and perhaps even a button that pulls up driving directions. Customers will use this because Yelp and Google searches sometimes lead to false information.

In exchange for this service (and many others we’ll talk about), you get information about your customers that is only available because mobile devices are ‘on hand’ at all times. With permission, you learn about where they live, when they are near your restaurant and how often they visit. This mine of information becomes rich and detailed as we weave in the next two aspects of an app.On Demand

2. On Demand

When Millennials want something, they want it now. This is no attack on their character – this is just the norm in society where information, goods and services are available with one click or tap. Restaurants have to adapt to this expectation, and a mobile app can help you do it. 

Let’s focus on the experience inside a restaurant first. Customers hate lines, and the cash register is the bottleneck. Particularly after new EMVco standards go into effect this October, checkout will become slower. This is the perfect time for restaurants to integrate web-based payments into their app, as if it were an online store. A customer could checkout on the app while waiting in line, order food and skip the cash register.

Outside the restaurant, the app should enable one-tap deliveries. Most restaurants used to avoid deliveries because maintaining a delivery staff is expensive. Today, third-party services rely on independent drivers who supply their own vehicles (a la Uber), which brings down the costs dramatically. They can provide instant gratification for customers without hurting your bottom line.  

By baking orders and payments into an app, your restaurant will be able to track what customers order, when and how often. The app is a fast lane to getting what techies call a “single view of the customer.”

3. On Everyone’s Mind

To be on someone’s mind, you have to be relevant. When you combine a good rewards systems with a mobile app, being relevant is easy.

At Togo’s, we use a point system. For every dollar a person spends, they earn a point, and 50 points is worth $5 at our restaurants. There’s no one right way to do rewards, but points systems get people excited to check their balance, which means they’ll spend more time on the app and interact with the brand more often.  

In previous two sections, I talked about information you can gather about customers. The rewards system is where you put it to work. For instance, if a customer orders the same sandwich nine out of ten times he visits your restaurant, it would make sense to surprise him with special offers for that sandwich. It would be even better to send that offer as a push notification, during lunch or dinner hours, specifically when he is within two miles of one of your locations. You can also tie offers to current events. If the 49ers win a big game, why not invite local customers to celebrate at your San Francisco restaurants? 

Being on the customer’s mind works. At Togo’s, we find that our mobile rewards users visit one to two times more per month than the average guest and spend an average of $10 more each time.

Be Worth It

This is by no means an exhaustive list of features a restaurant app should have. You can build social sharing, referrals, gift cards and much more.

Whatever you do, empathize with your customers. Today, there are over 1.5 million apps available to smartphone owners, and each one demands some level of commitment, time and trust. If you’re going to put your brand in peoples’ pockets, be worth it. Be on hand, be on demand and be on everyone’s mind.  

Renae Scott joined Togo’s as vice president of branding and marketing in December 2008 and oversees new product development, marketing and advertising. A visionary and strategist, Renae supervises all aspects of brand management. She has led Togo’s brand-rejuvenation efforts working to redesign the company’s logo, menu boards, uniforms and packaging. In addition, Renae has developed a new store prototype and remodel package for franchisees, and has been instrumental in launching new and limited time offer marketing promotions and public relations campaigns. Renae is an experienced executive and strategic marketer, having managed several nationally recognized brands within the restaurant, food and beverage, consumer products and non-profit industries. 


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