Managing Your Restaurant with Mobile Technology

restaurant trendsAccording to a recent article in USA Today, restaurateurs are ignoring their customers.  That’s right.  While diners are more than ready to bring online and mobile technology with them while they eat out, restaurants are lagging so far behind in capitalizing on these opportunities that it’s almost laughable.

In the words of Hudson Riehle, Senior VP of research at the National Restaurant Association (NRA), “technology has gone to the top of restaurant-owner action lists for 2013.”

Why?  Because restaurants’ key demographic (traditionally, 18- to 34-year-olds) include mobile apps in their “most wanted” list when it comes to a night on the town.  “American diners suffer from an extreme case of impatience and have an insatiable need for convenience that only technology can cure,” Derek Farley, a restaurant industry publicist, added in the article cited above.

However, according to data collected by the NRA, less than one in ten table service restaurants offers electronic table-side payment or mobile payment options.  The most tech-forward restaurants are chains.  That disparity is costing individual restaurants hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.  It’s ironic too, as the reason more restaurants aren’t adopting mobile technology is cited as supposedly “prohibitive costs.”

But are these applications really all that costly?  Sure, creating an app from scratch like T.G.I. Fridays did takes a lot of time, effort and capital, but there are third-party apps on the market for under $100 that feature all or most of the functionality of a custom app.  Some are even available for free!

The Need for Mobile Technology in the Restaurant Business

Restaurants are one of the last bastions of “old school” business technology.  To most restaurants, digitized POS systems are still new and exciting.  But technology moves faster than food – and, unfortunately, so do diners.

To highlight this disparity, the NRA collected data pertaining to mobile tech in the restaurant industry and the results were shocking.

  • 44% of diners surveyed said they would use table-side electronic payment if it were made available to them
  • 1/3 would use mobile payment options
  • 50% would use a smartphone for viewing menus
  • 44% said they would use self-order terminals
  • 40% said they would use smartphone apps to place orders

Big chains are cashing in on his trend.  Starbucks is far head of the curve with well over 100 million mobile transactions since January 2011, as is T.G.I. Fridays’ smartphone app that lets customers start a tab, track it and pay right from their mobile devices.  Others, like Chilis, Applebees and even McDonalds are using touchscreens to enhance diner satisfaction.

So what’s holding your restaurant back?  For a relatively low minimum investment, mobile apps can be used to:

  • Create loyalty coupon programs
  • Generate buzz and foot traffic through posting of special events
  • Make the customer’s experience as hassle-free as possible through the use of:
    • Digital menus
    • Online reservations
    • Interactive wine lists
    • Turn-by-turn driving instructions
  • Allow word of mouth marketing through social sharing on sites like Facebook and Twitter
  • And so much more!

6 Mobile Apps You Can Use to Boost Your Restaurant’s Business

If you’re ready to start capitalizing on all of the different advantages that mobile apps hold for the restaurant industry, consider the following tools:

Square – This mobile payment solution allows you to collect credit and debit card transactions using a special attachment that hooks in to your smartphone or tablet.  Once configured, paying for checks is as simple as swiping a card and signing approval.  Of course, there are fees associated with the service, but you’ll find that they’re likely lower than the fees you’re paying your current credit card processing company.

Breadcrumb – This tool is a full-featured app that lets you manage just about every aspect of your customer interaction.  The software was designed specifically with restaurants in mind and lets owners and employees see real-time view of tables, catalog the menu by selection name or ingredients, process sales and send take-out orders directly to the kitchen.  As an added perk, it retails for less than $100 in the IOS app store.

ChowNow – ChowNow is a mobile ordering application restaurateurs can sign up for that allows customers to place orders from their smartphones or computers.  The system even allows payment online, so you never have to worry about getting stiffed on the bill.

TabbedOut – Similar to the tab app that TGI Fridays uses, this application is available to any restaurant or bar and automates the order management and payment process.  It also integrates with your POS system and allows you to collect valuable data about your customers and their preferences.

Diner Connection – Diner Connection takes the place of waiting line buzzers.  Diners come in and give their name and phone number.  Then, when their tables are ready, the app will send them a text.  They don’t have to stay within radio range and you don’t have to worry about customers clogging your entryway – it’s a “win-win” for both parties.

Belly – One final tool that your restaurant should be aware of is Belly, a rewards system that allows your frequent customers to rack up loyalty points with a simple scan.  Not only that, the service offers mobile marketing, email marketing and social exposure, making it a quick and easy way to promote your business.

Obviously, the process of taking your restaurant from completely offline to proficient mobile marketer isn’t a transition that’s going to happen overnight.  However, by identifying your restaurant’s current weak points and implementing solutions that remedy these deficiencies, you’ll position your business well to cater to these important technology trends.

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