Deciding whether to invest in building or upgrading an app can be a tough decision for operators, especially in this me-too time when so many chains have at least some kind of mobile option. But is it always the best move for a brand? The reality is that only a third of restaurants have a smartphone app, according to the National Restaurant Association. Part of the reason some aren’t investing: Consumers are both highly selective and very protective over what’s on their phone—the average person has less than three restaurant apps, finds Deloitte.
Even the biggest brands aren’t sold on apps, and some are pulling back. Chipotle in its latest earnings call detailed a plan to focus its digital ordering instead on a new “mobile-enabled” website. This way, it won’t be competing for smartphone space, but still allows the convenience of ordering via smartphone.
When Restaurant Business conducted a test of 25 restaurant apps, the team was judging overall look, functionality and features. But one arching trend emerged—for them to even consider downloading an app for personal use, it has to add value.
Here are four questions to help judge if an app would be a boon for business.
Who's your target demographic?
When asked by an analyst if Wingstop’s mobile app was a sales driver in certain stores that were performing well, CEO Charlie Morrison gave some insight into the specific type of guest that uses its app. “Folks that are a little heavier millennial and certainly a little higher on the income scale tend to utilize mobile apps and mobile technologies more so than other markets,” he said in August.
How frequently do your regulars visit?
We asked all of our team whether or not they would download the apps they tested. The overwhelming response—even for the apps they loved—had a caveat. “Yes, if I was a regular diner.” So we asked the team what “regular” meant. To them, coffee shop regulars visit a restaurant a few times a week, versus a few trips per month for lunch and dinner spots.
Despite more than half of operators telling the NRA that the primary reason to have a smartphone app was to build sales and traffic, there was an overwhelming sentiment from the team about who might be using apps. “You’re probably not going to win a ton of customers over with an app,” said one tester. “It’s a perk and a convenience for people going there anyway.”
Does the app have it all?
With consumers extremely picky about what gets real estate on their smartphones, a restaurant app has to provide a lot of value—and that means being inclusive both of a loyalty program and an order-and-pay feature, found our testers.
More than half of restaurant apps today feature menus, maps, loyalty, ordering, payment and nutrition, finds the NRA. Yet despite these numbers, several of the apps tested included only loyalty. The app testers didn’t see the overall value, especially when a simple loyalty program tracked via email or phone number and recorded in a POS would offer the same program without being stored on their phones.
Are rewards attainable?
Admittedly, this question goes beyond the app. But loyalty was one of two download drivers, said our testers, the other being order-and-pay functions. Two-thirds of restaurant apps offer loyalty program information, according to the NRA, but testers were turned off by rewards that seemed too tough to earn. “I need to spend $55 to get anything from [this QSR chain]. That’s not much of an incentive for me,” one said.