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T.G.I. Friday's mobile payment app: Engaging the customer

In April, T.G.I. Friday's released its own mobile payment app. While many foodservice operations have embraced mobile apps for location services, coupon offers or linking into reward programs, proprietary mobile payment apps are still somewhat unchartered territory. In the quick serve arena, Dunkin Donuts just released its own mobile payment system, and Starbucks partnered with Square for its system.

The free app, called Friday’s, allows guests to make payments tableside using an iPhone or Android smartphone. An updated version, 2.7.0, released in September, allows guest to further enhance their mobile experience, fully integrating with the chain’s “Give Me More Stripes,” loyalty program and Friday’s Feed, a celebrity and gossip news feed powered by MTV news.

TGI Friday’s is right on target with its new mobile app. According to a new study from  Technomic's study “Market Intelligence Report: Consumer-Facing Technology,"consumers are showing the most interest in tableside touchscreen devices that enable them to self-order and pay, iPad/tablet menus and digital rewards tied to loyalty programs.  (See article below: Study: Consumers crave technology.)

To date, the app, which was launched April 25th, has approximately 300,000 downloads.  The app’s pay-at-the table functionality and newly added loyalty program integration was developed in a joint collaboration between Tabbedout, Illume Mobile, The Richard’s Group’s Click Here, Inc., Merkle, Inc., MICROS, and Carlson Restaurants (the parent company of T.G.I. Friday’s) IT.

While T.G.I. Friday is very plugged into social media channels—a must for the 18-35 year old group that is the restaurant’s core demographic—management did its due diligence before jumping on the mobile app bandwagon, ensuring that the app would have intrinsic value for both customers and the chain.

Enhancing the Friday's Experience

“When mobile apps started to take off, two to three years ago, we were definitely interested, but decided to step back and investigate the true functionality of what our guests wanted,” explains Shannon Gewinner, VP Brand Marketing at Carlson Restaurants. Worldwide. “Restaurant are more of an experiential thing—they aren’t e-commerce sites where you buy products or services. We wanted to create an app that our customers could use in our restaurants. We looked at what technology means in our customer’s life, and also what their experience is when they cross over the threshold into our restaurant.”

The focus—how to make a great experience even better—centered around giving guests the control over the payment process. “Our app lets our customers leave when they want; it eliminates the wait in that process,” says Gewinner. While the speed of service hasn’t necessarily increased, customers using the app are more satisfied with their overall T.G.I. Friday’s experience—not that they were unsatisfied before, adds Gerwinner. “This is just an added bonus.”

Management also knew it want to integrate with the chain’s loyalty program, “Give Me More Stripes,” which has 5 million members, “who are very loyal, very engaged, and very mobile,” says Gewinner.

The MTV News integration is a natural for TGIF’s customer base, a social group who want to be in the know, says Gewinner. MTV provides an RSS feed from its dot.com site to TGIF’s mobile app. Guests can click to the top five new articles on celebrities, gossip, etc., all of which is of interest to the T.G.I. Fridays core demographic. If a customer wants more news, they can click on through to the MTV site.

The app is simple to use: customers download the app, sign up for Pay at the Table, and enter their credit card data—which, assures Gewinner, is very secure. When the customer visits the T.G.I. Friday restaurant, he or she lets the hostess know they are paying via their smartphone, and are then given a code the server enters into the POS system. There is wireless connectivity with customers’ smartphones and the restaurant’s POS system. The app records all the ordered items, and will even calculate the tip percentage, based on the guest’s parameters. Both the price per check average and tip percentage have experienced increases when the app is used.

Options for the Customer

The app puts the entire payment process at the guests’ fingertips. Customers don’t have to wait for the server to bring the check; they can leave whenever they are ready. It’s their choice whether to settle up tableside or from a remote location.

The mobile app is one piece of T.G.I. Friday’s entire social media ecosystem, which includes Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. “It’s an integral part of how we want to communicate with our customers, and works in concert with our dot.com site, Twitter site, and “Give Me More Stripes program,” says Gewinner. “It’s another communication channel that allows us to deliver to the consumer, what they want, in a timely fashion, in a medium that they expect to be spoken to.”

Going forward, T.G.I. Friday is looking to offer more social engagement opportunities within the Friday’s app. “Being that 50% of phones are smartphones, we want to do more engagement using the phone within the four walls of our Friday restaurant,” says Gewinner. “ Maybe have gaming on the phones, or guest to guest interaction. Our guests are very social, and very friend centric. We want to offer enhancements that engage our guests with each other, that allow them to talk to each other, whether it be at the same table or tablet to tablet.”

Adds Gewinner, “We want our mobile app to offer a more engaging experience when they are in a Friday restaurant.”

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