There was a time when all a restaurant needed in order to attract new customers and keep them interested (aside from a great product) was a menu and a sign. This is no longer the case. Restaurants depend on a variety of channels, including social media, websites, and other technology to compete in a changing world.
Many restaurants are investing in their own applications, or apps, to appeal to more customers and drive greater sales. But does your restaurant really need an app? Are there shortcuts to the kind of functionality that an app offers that don't require hiring a developer? Here's what you need to know about what a restaurant app could offer your business and some tactics for getting the benefits of an app with less investment.
There are unmistakable benefits to investing in an app for your restaurant. Here are a few pros that apps bring to the table:
Today's customers expect to be able to interact with just about any business using their smartphones. Saving the step of having to call the restaurant or even going to the restaurant’s website means customers can access your information—and your food—even faster.
When you offer a restaurant app that is convenient and easy to use, your customers may be more likely to impulsively order items from you. Apps that can remember order history, make helpful add-on suggestions, and generally provide a smooth ordering process increase the likelihood of repeat customers ordering from your restaurant. In addition to customer loyalty, apps can help you increase visit frequency for your customers as well.
Customers who are accustomed to utilizing apps for restaurant orders may even choose not to patronize your restaurant if you don't offer an app.
One of the best ways to increase sales is to reach out to people who have already patronized your restaurant. Turning an occasional diner into a regular is more valuable than pulling in a brand new customer, and much easier too.
However, while generating repeat visits vs. first-time guests may be easier, it’s still challenging to encourage a customer to come back to your establishment. Even if you can collect phone numbers and email addresses for your guests, communicating without spamming isn't easy.
An ill-conceived marketing technique with too many emails or text messages that irritate instead of suggesting can cause customers to reject your restaurant altogether.
By contrast, push notifications from an app are much less intrusive, and allow your past patrons to engage with your brand on their terms.
Customers can willingly sign up to be notified by an app when there is a great coupon or new food deal available. If they aren’t interested, they can dismiss the notification. But if you catch their eye with a brief promotion at the right time, you may inspire someone to choose your establishment over a competitor.
There are lots of good things about online ordering, but arguably one of the strongest benefits of this ordering option for restaurants can be traced to the kitchen. Online ordering is a self-service solution for order placement, resulting in fewer mistakes in translation than can occur when order fulfillment follows a phone call and paper ticketing system.
Online ordering drastically reduces inaccuracy and alleviates the demands on your staff to take orders over the phone. Apps make online ordering so easy that the vast majority of customers choose to place orders this way. In fact, twenty-two percent of consumers now say that ordering food for carryout or delivery is more a part of their routine than it was two years ago, according to Technomic.
That’s a trend you won’t want to miss! An app can help you capitalize on your full online ordering potential.
Apps provide a stunning amount of information about the customers who use them. You can learn much more than basic demographics by utilizing an app. Not only can you collect information that customers enter themselves, like their names, email addresses, and birthdays, but you can also continuously record information like what customers purchased and when.
This kind of data is invaluable in advertising for the goal of increasing repeat customers. Use your point of sale (POS) system to prompt a customer to buy something that they often buy along with what's currently in their cart.
Notice that customers often purchase a certain type of item on a certain day of the week? Discount it and send a coupon or notice to customers. There are all kinds of ways you can take advantage of the information gathered by an app.
There are plenty of reasons to invest in a restaurant app, but there are some very good reasons not to as well. Thankfully, there are compromises between developing your own app and not having one at all, which we’ll explore further down in this blog post. For now, here are the downsides of app development.
Even a simple app typically costs thousands of dollars to develop. A restaurant app that can offer decent data collection, has an attractive interface, does a good job of prompting additional orders, and does the other things that you want will likely come with a high sticker price.
This is a big investment even for a large restaurant. For a small restaurant with a humble marketing budget, it likely rules out the development of an app. The initial cost isn't the only thing to think about either.
In order to keep your app bug-free, continue to add products, and adapt it to the changing needs of your restaurant, you'll need to continue paying the app developer. The more money you sink into the app over time, the harder it is to give it up, even if it isn't working well. You could find yourself caught in a cycle of investing in an app that isn't meeting your needs.
Even if you can find a dedicated programmer who's willing to work quickly to get your app up and running, it takes time to do the work to develop your app. There is a lot of planning and decision-making that goes into designing the app.
Actually building it and testing for bugs will take another couple of weeks or months. You don't want to rush this step, since an app that is released with major issues or bugs can be a serious hit to your reputation and make your customers wary of downloading an app from you again.
You likely got into the restaurant business because of a love of food, people, and the hustle and bustle of the industry. A passion and skill for app design are less likely reasons for your role in restaurant operations. Even if you choose a highly qualified designer, you'll still need to make a lot of decisions about what you want your app to do and how you want it to run.
Minor oversights can make it difficult for your guests to navigate the app or mean you miss valuable opportunities to upsell. Changing a restaurant app after it has already been downloaded by customers can lead to confusion and frustration, as customers have to relearn how to use the app.
If you decide to introduce a restaurant app, you’ll want to get it right the first time.
If the cost, time, and potential for error are deterring you from building your app, there's no need to give up on the benefits of an app altogether. Another solution is a third-party app that is ready to go out of the box. This option offers a lot of the benefits of an app you developed yourself without many of the downsides.
While you won't get an app as customized as what a designer could create, you will get the functions that restaurant owners are looking for from an app. Third-party options will offer tools to help you incorporate branded visuals, color schemes, and custom fonts that provide a customer experience that you can still control from start to finish.
You'll be able to customize elements of your customers’ experience, but you won't have to worry about making design mistakes that will make the app clunky or difficult to use. What’s more is, you’ll still have the ability to collect important data from your customers with this option.
Once you have an app in place, you can utilize the information you’ve gathered to prompt customers to make additional purchases, provide personalized messages, and offer unique promotional materials. You may even be able to allow customers to reorder with a click, making it simple for them to get what they want each time.
And as with any functional app, real-time updates can automatically be sent out so that customers will always know exactly what's happening with their orders, eliminating some of the anxiety that comes with using an online system instead of calling in to place the order.
Choose an application that easily integrates with a variety of other management apps and software, so you have room to grow.
Big restaurant brands often find it beneficial to build their own app. Chains like Domino's, Taco Bell, and Chili's have apps that have likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and many hours to develop.
However, this kind of investment isn't realistic or beneficial for the average restaurant. For most restaurants, the cost, time, and potential failure involved in building their own app makes it an unrealistic marketing venture.
Are you interested in a third-party integration that can enable your business to get the benefits of an app without the cost? Contact us today to learn more about the hundreds of integration options we offer that will work for your restaurant.