Hand holding mobile phone displaying home screen of iPhone apps

Restaurant apps: we know them, we use them and we love them. Big players such as McDonald’s and Starbucks have certainly changed the game with their mobile app success. They foster a strong connection to their guests through loyalty, promotions, order ahead options, ease of use, and more. Seeing these food giants master the art of connection through a proprietary app has definitely sparked a trend in the hospitality industry, as many other restaurant brands jump on board. But it does leave us wondering, are restaurant apps best for every brand?

For companies as big as Starbucks, McDonalds and Dominos, for example, it’s evident they have the financial resources and personnel to invest into making these platforms successful. But for brands with slightly less access to both of these resources, creating an app might not be the best investment to take on board without assessing if you can make it worth your while.

Considerations before jumping into an app

- The financial investment in proper app development: like anything else, if you do it, do it right.
When it comes to app development, there’s a number of considerations which are key to success. Brands require a team of professional designers and developers to ensure it embodies a strong brand identity, runs across multiple devices, is optimised for the user experience and allows you to create a unique connection with your guests.

The good news is, when it comes to your app design, brands can start with a smaller investment and work their way up. A recent study reported that thirty-nine percent of consumers give preference to the ‘ease of use’ factor when placing an order. We always recommend customers start with the basics on a first-time app. Brands can start with an app focused on driving sales and converting guests. As they start to understand performance, guest engagement and see the true potential ROI, they may want to invest more into more intricate app development down the line.

- The time investment to support your app: promotion, promotion, promotion.
When brands commit to an app, they are committing to an entirely new channel where they can engage with their guests. Encouraging your guests to download and use your app will require strategic thinking, from sparking awareness to encouraging downloads. But, the buck doesn’t stop there, brands also need to have a plan in place to maintain consistent engagement.

Brands need to really clearly understand their target audience. Once this has been defined, it will be easier to align a targeted marketing campaign. Your app will appeal more to your repeat guests as they will be more likely to download. This is your opportunity to turn these guests into brand loyals. However, it will be more challenging to convert first-time guests into app users. Researching will be key in establishing the best marketing approach from here.

It’s important to remember restaurant apps can’t compete with the likes of Facebook or Instagram, naturally your users won’t be in and out of your app every single day, multiple times a day. But it’s important to keep users engaged, before your relationship runs dormant and eventually your app may be deleted.

Promoting your app, and promoting your menu offerings within your app are two different strategies. Remember, incentives are important in this process. If your guest puts the effort into downloading your app, what will they get in return? As long as you can provide value to your guests, you’ll reap the benefits very quickly.

- The commitment to app maintainance: because technology changes at the speed of light.
Like any other technology, maintenance is important when it comes to maintaining a competitive advantage. Not only do brands need to maintain the usability of their app and keep it up-to-date with the wider brand, it also needs to be functional across devices, meet app store requirements, and more.

This requires consistently monitoring app success, testing features in the background, and monitoring changes to the mobile landscape.

- Lastly, if you can’t commit to the above in-house, consider working with a partner: there’s always options.
Explore the options of working with a company who can partner with you beyond app development. At MOBI, we work with our brands to ensure their channels are constantly surpassing industry standards, we share insights into the hospitality industry today, and support our customers with marketing strategies for continuous improvement and engagement.

Benefits of having a proprietary app

Now that we’ve covered the main considerations brands should know before jumping into app development, we can look at how brands can find success through their mobile apps once they’re released.

Increased access to customer data and insights
It’s no secret that reliance on third party apps such as UberEats and DoorDash can limit a brand’s access to customer data. By releasing a brand app, it removes the reliance on third party apps and increases the direct line of insight and communication with guests. But, again, this ties back to the need for a time and marketing investment. Consumers have learnt behaviours to order through UberEats, DoorDash and other aggregators. Once your app is live, your marketing will need to entice guests enough to change this behaviour.

Not only can access to customer data improve a brands operations and menu offerings, industry leading companies such as MOBI provide deeper meaning on the numbers through actionable insights. For example, check how many orders are being processed through your app, how often, which items customers are ordering and when. Easily compare order conversion rate by channel to measure performance and drill down into funnel level metrics, and more.

Improved revenue opportunities
Linked closely to the access to customer data and insight, apps give brands the opportunity to pull up a chair and engage with their customers. Using insights into guest preferences, order habits, menu performance, and more, brands can significantly increase sales through thoughtful promotion.

It’s a tried and true recipe! Taco Bell, for instance, sees an average of 30 percent more spend per order on mobile versus in-store sales.

Not only does having an app foster loyalty, it also improves revenue operations by guaranteeing payment every time. Users who place an order through the app, will pay at the time of purchase. This reduces the risk for orders to be placed and prepared without the guest showing up for pick-up and payment.

Opportunities to expand delivery options and more
Once your app has been developed, you can expand the ways it serves your customers. Although some brands prefer to maintain their proprietary app be used for pick-up and take-out, a whopping 51.5 percent of customers want their food to be delivered with the restaurant’s own app. Not only that, 70% of QSR and fast-casual consumers said they would order from a restaurant more often if delivery was provided.

Adding delivery integrations such as Last Mile Delivery allows brands to work with partners like DoorDashDrive and UberDirect to provide a reliable delivery service, without having to take on hiring personnel. Less reliance on aggregators as your sole marketing channel, more opportunities to increase customer retention and revenue.

The verdict: is an app next for your brand?

It's important to consider how your current business is performing across all your existing channels and then really think through the investments mentioned early on in this blog. If building a proprietary app isn't on the cards today, it might be in the next year or two. Regardless, take the time you need to plan before jumping in, so you enter the mobile app market strong and ready for success.

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