To say we now live in a mobile-centric world is an understatement. According to Flurry’s, the average user spends three hours and 40 minutes daily on a mobile device. ComScore’s 2015 U.S. Mobile App Report found that smartphone apps have driven the majority of growth (65 percent) in digital media usage in the past two years.
So it should come as no surprise that when considering places to order lunch or go out for dinner, consumers turn to their mobile phones for research. It’s no longer about simply choosing a place; rather, potential patrons want to read reviews, browse the menu and look for deals before making a decision.
To reach customers, any business in the restaurant or hospitality industry must go beyond just having a mobile-friendly website and engaging people on social media. They must also be accessible via the channels customers are using to research most—in other words, apps.
While consumers could turn to a mobile website, they prefer apps, spending 90 percent of the three hours and 40 minutes in mobile apps and only 10 percent in web browsers. That being said, it’s still prudent to ensure that your website is responsive in case customers do find themselves searching the web first.
Prior to deploying an app, it’s important that businesses understand and consider their options: branded, multibranded and aggregator apps.
Branded or multibranded apps
Branded apps are those owned and operated by one specific restaurant or brand. While these can be expensive to develop and deploy, the rewards can potentially outweigh the costs if done well. On the other hand, multibranded apps act similar to a branded app, but they allow consumers to find information from all participating restaurants instead of just one. Both options allow for restaurants to deliver detailed information and a multitude of services to customers, such as:
• Customer service: While it may seem basic, providing all necessary information about the restaurant in one place is something customers expect but restaurants often don’t execute. From browsing the menu and knowing the hours of operation, customers want an app that can connect them with the brand and answer all of their questions ahead of time. Additionally, these apps allow patrons to write reviews about their experience and engage on social media to share their positive experiences.
• Ordering and payment options: These types of apps can also allow the customer to order and pay ahead of time. Since customers are not required to have cash readily available or wait in long lines to process their to-go order, this self-service option is ideal for those who want to pick up dinner quickly or have their meal delivered.
• Promotions and loyalty programs: Customers who download and consistently use the app to engage with the restaurant are highly loyal and should be rewarded appropriately. Consider sending specific app-only promotions to encourage adoption and regular use of the platform. Additionally, these apps can host loyalty programs that track customer visits and purchases, and can notify them when it’s time to redeem their rewards.
If you’re not ready to allocate the resources required to develop a branded app, multibranded apps are a good solution to begin testing out individual app offerings. Beyond offering customizable options, some multibranded apps even reflect the restaurant’s signature look and feel when opened.
These apps aggregate basic information on restaurants and provide all data in one place. Think Yelp and GrubHub. These apps offer slightly different tools, such as:
• Location finders: The main purpose of aggregator apps is to inform consumers of restaurants in their area, allowing them to filter by price, type of food and other options like delivery and takeout services. These apps are a starting point for those deciding what to eat.
• Reviews: While branded apps can offer a place for patrons to write reviews, most turn to aggregator apps to post their comments for others to read. Therefore, it is important that owners regularly monitor the information about their restaurant on these apps.
• Reservation systems: A fairly recent trend is the use of reservation systems within aggregator apps, such as OpenTable or Resy. These apps aggregate all restaurants nearby that allow reservations and offer to be the intermediary and contact the restaurant on behalf of consumers who do not want to do it themselves.
The downside of aggregator apps is that they do not necessarily allow restaurants to offer customizable options to their customer base. In addition, the aggregator company owns the content. While they may let the restaurant update the basic information provided or upload a new menu, they still have primary control of all content delivered.
This year, evaluate how your customers are currently interacting with your brand on their mobile devices and what information they are searching for to determine which app option will best meet those needs. Regardless of which path you choose, apps are a powerful tool for restaurants and hospitality providers, and in today’s society, they are essential for engaging with potential patrons.
Andrew Levi is the founder and c.e.o. of Blue Calypso, an innovator and pioneer in the development and delivery of location-enabled mobile engagement solutions.