There are a many different ways to search for a restaurant, and hundreds of mobile apps in market which focus just on that. This post however will focus on the dining experience itself, once the restaurant selection has already been made – i.e. from the time the customers gets there (and even before) to the moment they leave (and even after).
Waiting for your table
Everyone has experienced the following situation at least once. It’s a busy saturday night, the feeling is right, and you want to go to a very popular restaurant at the last minute and did not make a reservation – or perhaps the restaurant does not even take reservations. They hand you a funny looking pager which obnoxiously buzzes when your table is ready, allowing you to walk around so you don’t have to just stand there. Useful? Yes. Outdated? Definitely.
Now that almost everyone has a mobile phone, restaurants can phase out the anitquated pagers and leverage the customers’ phones for table notifications through a basic SMS interface. This is a solution that companies like Mobile Matradee offer. This way restaurants can save significant costs as an average restaurant will spend on average $3,500 for a pager system setup as well as nearly $2,000 a year for replacement costs.
Beyond the cost-saving factor, restaurants can go above and beyond by directing customers to a customized mobile site, either through a mobile-originated shortcode or a message push once their phone number has been disclosed (and permission given). The mobile site could have, for example, interesting trivia about the restaurant and the menu so diners can start thinking of what they’d like to order. Once their table is ready, they’ll simply receive a text.
It would be interesting to know if there’s been a correlation between customer satisfaction and smartphone adoption over the last few years. If you think about it, before customers would probably get fed up much more quickly waiting for a table because they were bored stiff. Now people can keep busy by browsing the web, Facebook, texting, listening to music, etc. on their phones. So a 30 minute wait might seem more bearable now than it was before, but then again our attention spans have significantly decreased so perhaps it all evens out.
Ordering your food
The launch of the iPad as given way to many new trends, and for the restaurant industry this includes iPad menus. The size, portability, and cost has made it feasible for certain restaurant owners to digitalize the menus.
For example, Australian restaurant Mundo Global Tapas has adopted iPad menus and New York City restaurant South Gate offers customers their wine selection on the device. The latter establishment has over 650 wines which makes the device an appropriate navigation tool since I doubt any human can possibly memorize all the information that can be associated with each wine. It uses the SmartCellar software which provides high-quality images of wine labels, the ability for restaurants to customize listings and their branding through a simple CMS interface, as well as an inventory check system so if a wine is sold out it will not appear on the menu.
It’s awesome. The iPad not only provides an entertaining and interactive experience, but it adds additional value by providing information that consumers would have had to previously ask for or guess. For example, they can see photos of what the dish looks like, browse the list of ingredients, see allergy warnings (is it gluten free?), get wine suggestions on what goes best with the dish, and even immediately place their order with the tap of a finger.
Restaurant owners can also potentially save costs in the long-run, and help the environment in the short one. No need to keep printing daily specials when it can be easily updated on the iPad, and staff can focus attention on non-tablet-replaceable activities such as filling up water and greeting guests. I still suggest that restaurants maintain traditional menus for the more tech-challenged clientele, but it is a neat novelty to have.
And it’s still early days. As other tablets enter the space and prices drop dramatically (as tech products invariably do) digital menus are only going to become more popular if not industry standard. Additional enhancements are yet to be envisioned, such as unique logins for regular customers that will store their favourites, suggest new items that they might like based on what they’ve eaten before, display comments and suggestions from friends, offer coupons and specials, and develop some type of loyalty program (e.g. “Congratulations, this is your 3rd visit, you get a 2-for-1 special on appetizers” or “It’s your birthday! Free cake on the house“).
Although the iPad menu concept is relatively new and best suited for higher-end restaurants, the concept or ordering food from your phone has been around for a couple years, and more so in the fast-food delivery and take-out industry.
Companies like GoMobo, Sundrop Mobile, Brygrid, orderTopia and Mobidines provide mobile ordering and m-commerce solutions to chains like Subway, Dominos Pizza, Pizza Hut, ColdStone Creamery, Burger King, Quiznos, as well as stand-alone restaurants.
Mobile ordering works in several ways. The customer can place order through SMS, a mobile website or a mobile application. Once the order is done, it can be sent to restaurants by either direct integration to the POS (e.g. Firefly, Par, etc.), email or even fax.
For example, orderTopia works by linking the order to the restaurant’s POS and charges a monthly fixed fee (starting at $35) as well as 2% on transactions. They can also create a branded iPhone app personalized for the restaurant in exchange for a higher monthly fee ($100), provide integration with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and have an open API which allows website owners to make money on transactions done through orderTopia widgets placed on their sites.
Mobile ordering is somewhat still in experimental stages, but test cases are showing very positive results. For example, Burger King partnered with GoMobo and PointAbout for an iPhone application which allows consumers to place orders and pay. Their findings showed that in-app purchases were 25% larger than in-store, customers that use the service increased the frequency of their visits by 42% and existing loyal customers increased their value by 75%.
Eating your food
There is currently no app that will eat your food for you (yet) – but if you’re watching your weight, perhaps a mobile calorie counter or nutritional guide app can be of assistance.
Paying for your food
Once you’ve ordered and eaten, it’s time to pay. The current and future landscape of mobile payments aside (warrants an entire post in itself), there are some handy mobile apps that will help you calculate tips and easily split the bill.
Beyond the dining experience…
For restaurants that have developed their own mobile application or website, there are post-dining opportunities to be leveraged such as conducting a mobile survey for customer feedback and creating mobile loyalty programs. Not only do you build a database of regular patrons, but you can use it to increase frequency of visits through special deals and promotions. Using LBS services can also allow you to target people of interest nearby and draw them in with dynamic offers.
Despite the fact that iPads are still an item of luxury, and mobile food ordering and payments have not quite yet reached mass adoption, restaurants today should be at minimum educating themselves about mobile, if not already implementing a wireless presence. It’s no longer a “in the future” concept, it’s here – and it’s now.
Restaurants should consider at least having a mobile website, in the same way having a website is now deemed essential. And depending on their clientele’s demographics, they might want to go further, and develop an application that would integrate features such as a restaurant locator, directions, menu items, opening hours, special deals or promotions and the ability to make reservations.
As for mobile ordering, busy downtown fast-food chains are definitely better candidates since a majority of the customers are on-the-go and saving 15 minutes on a lunch break is a big deal. Higher-end fine dining establishments are better off sticking to living and breathing human waiters as personal and exceptional service is part of the overall experience, but little extras like an iPad wine menu are definitely a nice touch…