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QSRs’ ordering apps fall short of leveraging mobile’s full potential

April 4, 2014

Taco Bell's new mobile ordering app

Taco Bell’s new mobile ordering app

While restaurants of all sizes are embracing mobile ordering, these strategies fall short in many cases of leveraging mobile’s full potential for social, entertainment and utility-based offerings that can drive engagement and loyalty with customers.

There has been no shortage of restaurants jumping into mobile ordering this year, from Taco Bell and Panera to a host of smaller chains adding this functionality to their applications. However, restaurants should think outside of the box for their apps and integrate fun and unique features that go beyond mobile ordering.

“Apps for any brands are intended to amplify their current or prospective customers’ engagement and loyalty,” said Rob Hoxie, vice president of business development and partnerships at Atimi Software, Vancouver. “They can only truly pull this off by providing reasons for users to come back to the app again and again.

“Since restaurants rely on their ‘regulars’ to spread word of mouth, there definitely should be a social component to restaurant apps,” he said. “They can take advantage of the tons of pictures and videos already being taken by folks celebrating milestones, sports events and each other  — more so than any other ‘retail’ environment. Reward them for spreading the word for you while they’re waiting for your food.

“For family-oriented restaurants, why not have a special app or portion of your app that only works when at your restaurant?”

Out of the box
In-restaurant entertainment is one great use of an app. While consumers are sitting at the table and waiting to order, why not offer them special games and features that are only accessible in the restaurant?

“Everyone appreciates a fun game,” said Brennan Hayden, vice president of mobile at [x+1], New York. “The cost of production and distribution is so low for a mobile game relative to other merchandising strategies, it might be a cost-effective, high-funnel strategy for a restaurant to release a game, just for fun, to assist branding and promotions.”

panera big opt
Panera’s mobile ordering app

It also makes sense to incorporate social features into restaurant apps. Dining is inherently social, so restaurants can take advantage of that and invite guests to share photos at the restaurant via their branded app.

“Easy solutions such as digital menu, ordering, reservations, specials/coupons and loyalty incentives with push notification to keep customers engaged would be expected,” said Paul Alvarez, vice president of sales and business development at Atimi.

“Now it is time for restaurants to go beyond the expected,” he said.

Wait-time alerts
Beyond the creative, fun features, restaurants can also add more functional aspects to apps.

One feature that consumers would probably appreciate is wait time alerts. Instead of getting to a restaurant and having to wait for a table, consumers would be able to make a reservation via the app and be notified when the table is ready.

Restaurants could also let consumers order ahead via their apps so that they do not have to wait a long time for food once they get to the table. Pre-ordering could speed up guests’ stays opening up more tables for more consumers and leading to more revenue.

Another functionality that restaurants should look into is automatically logging guests into Wi-Fi when they open the branded app. This saves them the time of having to go into settings, agreeing to the legal fine print and waiting to connect.

“Restaurants are all about the repeat customer,” said Marc Parrish, an advisor at Appboy, New York. “Hook them twice, and you have a customer for life.

“If you are a high end restaurant, that patron might spend $200-$1000 a year with you,” he said. “Apps provide a pivotal role.”

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Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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