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Keying up mobile trends at RLC

One of the overarching themes that ran through many of the sessions at this week’s Restaurant Leadership Conference was that mobile is a critical part of the restaurant business today. “Mobile is the future of communication with guests,” said Greg Dollarhyde, chief energizing officer of the 23-unit Veggie Grill chain. While several different speakers admitted that the industry has been slow to adopt mobile advances, it’s clear by the sheer number of sessions devoted to mobile that operators are now ready to get on board. The question for many is where to start and how to build a successful mobile app. While there is no one answer, many speakers shared their own experiences and recommendations to help attendees better take advantage of mobile as an opportunity for growth. Here’s a roundup of some of their advice:

You can’t be everything for everyone. The smartphone is a coveted platform; the average person has 40 apps on their smartphone, but only uses 10 to 15. The goal should be to be among those top apps for your target audience. Identify your core customers, and develop your platform to suit their needs. Your most loyal customers are likely to be your primary users, so give them what they’ll find useful and engaging.

Don’t waste time with a one-trick pony. Many speakers recommended all-in-one apps that centered on loyalty but also included ordering, mobile payment, feedback, recovery, social media and other capabilities. This is a good way to make your app useful—thus more in demand—and also capture a lot of consumer data on the back end.

Keep it simple. Consumers are looking for ease of use; they will pass over complicated and labor-intensive programs. Jeff Jenkins, senior digital and mobile leader for Taco Bell, even referenced the ease of one-click retail shopping websites, suggesting this as the direction restaurants should be headed, especially with mobile ordering.

Be prepared to take a risk. Many of the mobile companies out there today are start-ups, said Cinnabon president Kat Cole. Do your due diligence and identify a best-in-class partner, but at some point you just need to take a leap, she said. One other thing she did suggest—be specific about the indemnification language in your contract with a mobile partner.

The moral of the mobile story is that this is the new way to engage with consumers, and reliance on mobile is only going to continue to increase. “We’re trying to digitize hospitality,” said Dollarhyde. Communication with guests has moved outside of the four walls of a restaurant and into the digital realm.

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