In a report from the National Restaurant Association (NRA), a significant number of consumers aged 45 years and younger reported that they would use mobile apps to order meals and make reservations. Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President of the NRA’s Research and Information Division, emphasizes the importance of technology in not only capturing this younger demographic, but also in enhancing the restaurant’s operations.
With this in mind, I’ve sifted through hundreds of mobile apps and put together a list of six that can entice customers, improve operations and help restaurant owners differentiate their businesses. I’ve also interviewed users of the apps to get an in-depth look at how the technology is assisting restaurant owners. We all know of the massive impact OpenTable has had on the restaurant industry. Could one of these apps be next?
ChowNow is an online ordering system that allows customers to access a menu from the restaurant’s website, Facebook page, or the ChowNow mobile app. Patrons can even customize their order and checkout online. The order transfers to a tablet at the restaurant, where staff can complete the order and notify the customer when their food will be ready.
ChowNow is best for casual dining and quick-service restaurants.
Mark Pope, owner of La Lune Sucrée, a café in San Jose, says that the idea behind the app is that “busy, professional people can order their food” without having to wait in line. With a restaurant smack in the middle of Silicon Valley, “it’s one more thing that helps me grow the number of people who come into my cafe,” he says, as it puts him at a distinct advantage compared to other restaurants in the area.
Tabbedout is a mobile payment app that allows customers to manage and pay for their tab using their smartphone by simply entering in credit card information and a custom passphrase and clicking “Open tab”. Each item the customer orders will show up on the tab, and once a customer is ready, he can simply click “Pay tab” to make a payment on his phone. From there, he can choose to split the check and decide on how much to tip.
Tabbedout is best for any restaurant or bar looking to improve the payment process.
Marius Donnelly, owner of Trinity Hall in Dallas, says that the key value of Tabbedout is that it’s “easy to use and transparent on both sides,” as it sends an itemized tab directly to your smartphone. It also allows staff to spend “more time servicing tables and less time moving back and forth with individual pieces of paper for signatures.”
3. Diner Connection
Diner Connection is a text message-based wait-list manager. Upon entrance, a customer provides his name, phone number and the number of people in the party. Diner Connection will send a text to the customer when his table is ready.
Diner Connection is best for any restaurant that frequently has waiting lists for tables.
Ryan Pilz, Vice President of Ruckus Restaurant Group, says that Diner Connection makes his host staff “much more efficient and organized,” as they no longer have to manage dozens of pagers. He also says that the customer ends up enjoying the fact that it’s “something new” and the fact that “their cell phone, which 95 percent of the time they have in their hand or pocket, is being used as a pager to communicate with our staff.”
Uncorkd is an iPad-based wine menu. Customers can access the full database of wines, including information such as its origin, age and recommended food pairings. Moreover, restaurant owners can access the app on any computer and update their wine list in real-time.
Uncorkd is best for higher-end restaurants or bars with a significant wine inventory.
Michael Hurst, the Beverage Director at ORSO in Anchorage, says that not only are customers “fascinated by it,” but the app has also increased wine sales by the bottle, especially of their esoteric wines. He also says that “the investment is very low,” as his restaurant needs only six iPads to provide wine lists for 350-400 meals a night.
GoPago is a one-click mobile ordering system. Users browse, order and pay for food on their smartphone–skipping the line entirely. Once in the restaurant, patrons show their electronic receipt to the cashier and pick up their food.
GoPago is best for quick-service, fast-casual restaurants.
Dana Zumot, manager at Murphy’s Deli in California, describes GoPago as a “fast and easy” product that has improved foot traffic and the number of return customers. She also adds that it has even added some new customers, as it “eliminates the traffic and long lines during lunch.”
Belly is a digital rewards system. Customers use a scannable reward card or scan the code with their smartphone to earn points every time they check in. After a certain number of points, customers earn rewards customizable by the restaurant owner.
Belly is best for any venue that wants to encourage repeat visits.
Nick Patrizi, owner of the Austin food truck The Jalopy, uses Belly as an “easy way to monitor and reward return customers.” He enjoys Belly’s local approach, as they encourage rewards to be “fun and innovative rather than financially rewarding.” For example, at The Jalopy, 15 points lets you arm wrestle Nick for a soda and 30 points lets you honk the horn, which are just a few of the fun, quirky rewards they offer their regulars.
Which app did you find most interesting? Are there any other apps that you feel others should know about? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!