Mobile App Development for Restaurants: A Guide

By David Oragui / 22 June 2018

Many small but growing restaurants want to develop their own mobile app to better engage with their customers, but what options do they have regarding features and development? This restaurant app development guide will provide some options, suggestions, and examples for those seeking to build their own mobile app. 

Advancements in technology are empowering business owners to create experiences that are engaging, yet simple and convenient. Many business sectors are enhancing the customer experience with mobile apps, and the restaurant industry is no exception.
 
Restaurants of all sizes are developing mobile apps that customers can use to make reservations, order takeout, or update dining preferences. A survey shows that the majority of diners use restaurant mobile apps to view menus and pricing (55%), search for deals (38.2%), order food online (30%) and make reservations (23.8%).

Another survey shows that half of all smartphone owners are using restaurant loyalty reward apps.
 
There are five main reasons for developing a mobile app for your restaurant:

  1. Customers will place orders more often because of convenience—they just tap a button on the smartphone to get what they want.
  2. You can serve a greater number of customers at the same time.
  3. The app provides marketing and promotion by raising awareness about your restaurant among paying customers.
  4. An app with solid functionality can motivate customers to visit your restaurant more often.
  5. A restaurant app can help your restaurant create a client base, study statistics, and learn preferences. You can then use that data to increase business. 

Apps Should Have Engaging Functionality

Your restaurant app will offer continuous interaction between you and your consumers. If developed properly, your app will create a circular pattern – it will provide the customers with an effortless user experience and they will keep coming back to purchase. Also, a proper app experience will leave customers happy to comment, review, and recommend.
 
Before embarking on the mobile app development for restaurants, you need to understand what features your service should include. There are a few options to consider:

Menu

One of the primary functions of any restaurant app is to showcase the menu. Adding an appealing interactive menu to your mobile app makes this search more convenient to those willing to download the application. It allows potential diners to decide on their meal before they reach the restaurant.

Chick-fil-a app menu
 
The menu should be easy for viewing and choosing food and beverages. It is also good to provide information about ingredients, portion size, and appealing images.
 
A mobile app also makes it possible for your restaurant to notify customers of new or specialty menu items, no matter the time or place.

Mobile Ordering and Payment

Time is a valuable resource for today’s consumers on the go. In-app ordering and payment is definitely a “must-have” option for restaurants.
 
Hungry customers are increasingly turning to their mobile device to make reservations and orders for delivery or pickup. Big delivery chains like Domino’s and Papa John’s handle nearly half of their orders through mobile ordering. People like the convenience of using a mobile device to order food, and prefer using the app over having to call the restaurant.

The coffee giant Starbucks' actually became the top mobile payment app – beating Apple Pay and Google Wallet – with its mobile ordering and payment option.

Starbucks mobile order and pay

Mobile ordering also reduces human error, which improves order accuracy and guest satisfaction. Plus, restaurant staff will spend less time taking orders over the phone, so they can focus on preparing orders or giving attention to customers who are dining in the restaurant.

Loyalty Programs

Most restaurants have been unable to deliver a rewards program to rival the ones offered by larger chains like Dunkin Donuts or McDonald’s. Mobile apps present an opportunity to level the playing field and give smaller restaurants a superior loyalty program. 
 
A mobile app works well for a loyalty program, as it provides an extra convenient way for customers to track accumulated points and see what new incentives are redeemable for their loyalty. These programs produce higher levels of return business, as they encourage diners to keep coming back to pursue rewards.

Social Media and Review Integration

Social media integration has become a permanent feature for every app out there. This is especially true for the restaurant sector, with many customers wanting to review their experience or take and upload pictures.
 
Your restaurant app can leverage social media and combine it with your loyalty/discount programs to entice customers to earn rewards for inviting new customers, increasing your customer base. 

App Development Options

Building an app for your restaurant doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Many small but growing restaurants may want to develop their own mobile app to better engage with their customers, and there are several options to pursue that goal:

 Often, the decision boils down to cost. Utilizing a reputable app development firm can range from $5,000 to $50,000, or even more. Hiring a reputable freelance programmer for the project can also cost, on average, $50 to $80 per hour. Meanwhile, the costs for a DIY platform can range anywhere from $30 to $699 per month, depending upon the functionality desired.
 
There is a growing number of firms, freelancers, and DIY platform providers who say they can inexpensively develop and launch a mobile app, but you should be wary of anyone who promises to provide development services for the lowest price. Mobile app development should not be based purely on cost. A poorly developed app could have negative effects on your business or on the app's usage.
 
If you cannot afford a firm, freelancer, or in-house staff to help build a mobile app, a smaller business may still be able to create one with a DIY app builder. 
 
Utilizing a DIY app builder allows the mobile app to be produced in-house without the need for a developer or coding specialist. Most of these software platforms come with pre-designed app templates that a small business can customize and implement with no special technical expertise necessary.

Examples of Successful Restaurant Apps

A number of high-profile restaurants have taken advantage of customers’ mobile preferences to boost customer engagement and improve the dining experience. Here are a few examples of successful restaurant apps:

Domino’s Pizza

Domino's app screenshot
Source

Domino’s Pizza uses its mobile app for business growth and marketing. The app makes building your own pizza both fun and easy. Customers can choose from preset toppings or create their own combinations. The app even allows a customer to track an order.

Starbucks

If statistics will convince you of the power of mobile apps for a restaurant, Starbucks is your proof. They were one of the first companies to use the mobile app channel for business growth. As of Q3 of FY17, Starbucks app spend increased to 39% of U.S. company-operated sales, while Mobile Order and Pay represented 12% of U.S. company-operated transactions.

Chipotle

Chipotle app

Chipotle’s simple app shows that a restaurant’s app doesn’t need to be complicated to work. This restaurant understands our culture of instant gratification, so instead of standing in line, you can place your order in advance. This is ideal during rush hours and you’re able to skip the line to pick up your order.

Subway

Subway is taking advantage of a branded mobile app for online ordering. Users can choose and pay for their meal ahead of time, enabling them to pick it up without any wait at the restaurant. As a result, Subway also reduced the line and wait time for customers that prefer to order at the counter.

The Argument for a Mobile App

Whether you’re looking to improve sales, increase customer retention, or simply boost your digital profile, restaurant app development has the potential to improve your customers’ experience and promote loyalty.

According to Bain & Co., just a 5% increase in customer retention could increase profits by 75%, which makes a custom app for a restaurant a worthwhile technological investment.

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