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Chains Serve Up Their Own Smart Restaurant Apps

June 10, 2014 | By | No Comments

Brand-specific restaurant apps have become a top priority for restaurant franchises. Those late to the game are developing their first diner-friendly apps and chains that wisely saw the mobile app revolution coming are adding sophisticated new features like dynamic ordering. “Cut the pickles”? There is now an app for that.

Restaurant Apps Demanded by Diners

Mobile savvy customers are demanding mobile apps to diminish even the slightest inconveniences of dining out or grabbing take out. Restaurant apps that do that best are winning these customers. So what used to be thought of simply as a tool for operations is now becoming a profit driver.

A panel discussion at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago delved into the latest trends in customized mobile app development for diners.

Of course you can use ChainWise to help you locate your next meal. But mobile app growth within the restaurant sector has focused on what happens after you have carefully selected your dining destination.

Fast casual and fast food restaurants are scrambling to meet customer demands to connect to their favorite brand in more complex and customized ways than ever before.

restaurant apps

Panera is one of many several brands with new apps that allow diners to skip the register.

For example, earlier this year Panera Bread Co. announced it had made a whopping $42 million investment in technology upgrades, enabling its customers to order online as well as with their mobile app and iPads.

Apps Rush Restaurants Into the Data Debate

As dining establishments seek to meet the insatiable consumer appetite for technology, some are finding more than a few challenges along the way, including the question of what happens to the customer data collected.

Restaurants that develop their own complex mobile apps, allowing patrons to order and pay for meals, retain control over the information collected. But what about eateries that outsource their app development?

If there’s a third-party intermediary involved in helping that customer choose the soup of the day, the data collected may not be readily available to the restaurant. That raises concerns for consumers. In most cases, diners expect their data to be kept confidential by the restaurant they are eating at.

The issue for restaurant owners comes into play because typically the “one who enrolls, is the one who controls.” In other words, whomever first enrolls the customer into the online interaction of taking the order or other services controls the database and the statistics that can be derived from it.

As one panel member noted, the problem is that the behavior and identity data associated with top customers can be worth five to 10 times their value as a loyal diner. Bundles of data on these top tier diners are extremely valuable to companies that aren’t even related to dining. For restaurants that recognize this, third-party apps for onsite restaurant services are simply out of the picture. They can’t take any chances with such prized information.

White Castle, for example, now has online ordering, mobile ordering and even kiosks in some test markets. They spec out their own app, designing it to suit their needs. Only then do they turn to an outside point-of-sale vendor for a bit of coding and tweaking.

The Future of Restaurant Apps

Most industry watchers believe that despite a few challenges, with smartphone usage expected to stretch beyond 70 percent in the near future, the advantages of customized iPhone and Android restaurant apps will continue to grow.

As with most emerging technologies, there are advantages as well as challenges. For chains, restaurant apps that allow the customer to tap into services—to order a meal, for example, rather than just look at an online menu—offer a unique opportunity. These restaurants see an opportunity to develop a personal, one-on-one relationship with customers. That is something the hotel industry has benefited from for years but which, until now, has eluded the restaurant industry.

While you may enjoy the convenience and hassle-free process of placing your order through an app, the restaurant also benefits. It learns about your behavior—giving it a leg up on trying to influence your future actions.

That’s not all. Some restaurants are reporting that in-store kiosks are up-selling customers at a rate more than 50 percent above a traditional human server. In addition, more than one representative of restaurant chains on the panel stated that online orders are nearly double that of non-online orders, on average.

In addition to feeding sales, there is a longer term goal with restaurant apps. One of the panel members noted that the they want to develop two-way communication between patron and restaurant—even when the customer isn’t in the store. That relationship could lead to major improvements—new menu offerings, nearly instantaneous responses to complaints, and much more.

Written by Lori Weaver. You can find her on Google.

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