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iPhone app and citrus slices

The first time that I ever took a restaurant app seriously was a few months ago during a family get-together at Outback Steakhouse. Although the Outback Steakhouse app is decent (you can find locations, place an order, etcetera) it was their Tablemates app that got me. The table tent provoked me and the rest of our group to do some synchronized app-downloading. The benefit? Table games. Using the app, everyone at our tables could play games with each other while waiting for our food.

Tools like an app are there to help you improve your restaurants customer service, using things they have already like their phones.

phone at table

In a society where everyone spends half their meals looking at their phones anyway, it sort of makes sense. This app embraced cellphone culture and introduced “social dining” instead of banning cellphones at the door.

Does your restaurant have a mobile app? Or at least a mobile website? Did you know that 94% of smartphone users have looked for local information, 90% of those users have acted upon that information once they found it, and 50% visited a business afterward?

When a user gets to your website on their mobile phone they’re most likely looking for your phone number, hours of operation, menu and possibly photos of your storefront so they can find you.

Since you can do all of those things with a mobile-friendly website, it seems silly to spend the dough to develop an app. If you want to develop an app, it should integrate more than just your website basics, it should do something that your website can’t do.

For example, table games!

The cost of mobile apps for small business

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) reports that a huge amount of guests under age 45 would use a mobile app to order their meal or make a reservation.

A custom mobile app can cost anywhere from $99 to $499 and beyond, depending on the type of app. A mobile website is less costly than a mobile app that includes the iPhone or Android. An app control system can cost an additional $15 to $60 per month, depending on the guest’s platform.

couple with phone at table

Turn your app into a VIP experience.

People use apps because of the ease of use, they give them back some time in their day (unless it’s a game). Make sure you are focusing your app on how can it improve their experience? Does it make your loyalty program easier for them to join?

Allow them to make reservations — and cancel reservations. Never require a user to cancel a reservation on a platform different than the one they made it on or you’ll increase your no-show rate.

There are several mobile platforms built for the hospitality industry that are all trying to help you do different things with their apps. Why not combine what each of them are offering into your own app?

Here are a few things that some of the most popular mobile apps are doing for restaurants:

  • Accepting take-out orders
  • Accepting reservations
  • Offering interactive menus with deeper descriptions of the menu
  • Allowing guests to create tabs and pay for them later
  • Letting guests text message themselves onto a wait list
  • Letting them order drinks and apps at the table before a waitstaff even shows up (for the “I’m starving” folks)
  • Digital wine menus at the table with more details than just the name and price
  • Taking feedback at the end of the meal in the form of a survey

Small restaurants can take part in the growing app business affordably, and by doing so, can save time and cut costs.

By taking reservations via an app, an employee who takes phone reservations can be free to do other work. A busy waiter or waitress who takes telephone orders for take-out can concentrate on seated guests and streamlining in-house ordering via an app will prevent guests from being impatient and irate if they must wait too long after they’re seated. Menus can be updated with ease and guests can arrange menu items by price, spice or favorites. Restaurant owners can track their most popular dishes and actions.

Restaurant apps are helping independent owners and small bistros and others to have an advantage over the competition and with smartphone use projected to reach over one billion by 2014, the app is a beneficial method for boosting loyalty with existing guests, and enticing new ones to get to know you.

Looking for more ways to improve your guests experience? Get some ideas here!

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As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.