The mobile industry has grown faster than any other technology or innovation in human history, with the average person now checking their smartphone about 110 times a day. With so many digital changes to keep up with, many restaurant operators struggle with how to plug their business into the mobile revolution.
Although a little less than 25 percent of restaurants have their own app, this untapped marketing strategy is one of the most powerful in driving consumer behavior. Program restaurant Kahwa Coffee even saw their sales increase by 16 percent within three months of launching their app.
Roughly two out of three people use their mobile device to make dining decisions, and that number jumps to 83 percent when they’re traveling outside of their home market. At this point, to be successful and fill tables in a very congested and competitive market, restaurateurs need to have a way to reach diners on their phones in the right place at the right time.
But how? Should you build your own app? Should you buy one from someone else? Do you even need an app? How do you even get started? Often times that last question is the hardest to answer. Let’s break it down together.
Thanks to Apple’s advertising, we think there’s an app for everything – and that’s not far from the truth. When it comes to examining your own business’s mobile strategy, though, there are two options to consider when deciding whether to build an app.
Build an app yourself
This requires knowledge of the technologies and resources to be able to build and support for the long-term. With the leading device manufacturers (Apple and Samsung) regularly releasing new hardware and software updates every year, it can be daunting to keep up with the changes without the right expertise.
For most restaurateurs, the cost of this approach outweighs the benefits, with the exception of large multi-unit operators or chain restaurants, usually managed through a corporate IT department.
Buy an app off-the-shelf
Often this is much more cost effective for smaller businesses, but it can still be pricey. There are hundreds of companies with products that allow restaurants to create their own app using pre-built templates. Many of these companies also enable businesses to have an app built and maintained by the vendor, which is a lower-effort option for a presence in the Apple App Store and Google Play stores. The cost varies by vendor and usually depends on the features and functionality.
However, unless there is a reason to use the app on a regular basis, consumers are unlikely to visit it frequently. The app market is cut-throat, and the vast majority of apps are low-trafficked. Unless users see the value to the app they just downloaded in the first 20 seconds, they are unlikely to ever open the app again and may even immediately delete it.
For a user, “value” is key. The app must provide an incentive for the user to keep coming back and interacting with the app. When it comes to restaurant apps, these “value features” typically allow a user to get something from the restaurant itself, like online ordering, reservations, placement on the wait list, or loyalty rewards.
With this in mind, a stand-alone mobile app may not be worth the cost unless you plan on implementing one of these value features. With hundreds of apps and mobile sites offering one-stop restaurant information and ordering options, perhaps your mobile strategy should focus on putting your brand in more places and on more phones.
By having a presence in multiple places and in multiple mobile channels, you diversify your mobile strategy. These mobile channels could include:
- Listings on restaurant discovery services
- Digital ordering services
- Digital reservations services
- Digital waitlists with mobile check-in like NoWait
- Digital loyalty and rewards programs like Rewards Network
- Social networking platforms
While many of these options are not free, they are often more effective than building your own app. By having a presence in multiple mobile apps, mobile websites, and other digital channels, your brand is more likely to get impressions when dining decisions are being made, making it easier for those users to interact with your brand, and turn those mobile eyeballs into diners at your restaurant.
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