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Apps: Naughty or nice?

Dear Santa,

Tooling around in a retro convertible, eyes fixed all night on the hind end of Arby’s next LTO, a fat blob like you probably craves a fast bite now and again. Instead of scraping a sleigh through the drive-thru, have you considered ordering via app? Or is that as much of a “Duh!” as asking if you’re delivering fewer Game Boys these days? 

Don’t get your beard in a twist over our naivete, you giant tomato. Truth be told, we think plenty of restaurant execs will be asking this year for clarity on what to do about apps. Unless you enjoy the frequency of a Starbucks or Domino’s, will customers really clutter their phone screens with a button dedicated to your brand?  Research has shown that most consumers use about five smartphone apps in total. Can a North Pole Pierogies really muscle its way into that elite group? Especially when you and the elves can order the usual troughload through any number of third parties, from Amazon to Uber?

Add in the development and maintenance costs, and you can understand why some restaurant operators would rather break a tooth on a stale fruitcake than greenlight an app for their brand. 

We don’t know if they’re naughty or nice for taking that Candy Land path. But even Blitzen can see how those third parties are amping up the appeal of their options to pull consumers away from restaurants’ proprietary channels. 

UberEats recently upgraded its app to provide user reviews of places offering takeout or delivery. If a customer wants to dine in, Google will now tell them how long they’ll likely have to wait for a seat.  

Facebook allows users reliving an ugly sweater contest to order food without missing a single snap of a poinsettia-studded cardigan. With a few screen touches, consumers have access to all the restaurants listed on seven aggregation sites—from DoorDash to Olo—as well as the nearest units of Jack in the Box, Panera Bread, Five Guys, Wingstop, TGI Fridays and Papa John’s, among others.

Which is a consumer more likely to download: the apps for each of those chains, or a single app that provides access to all of them, plus a steady stream of cute-baby videos?

You may soon be able to order through your sleigh’s navigation system, and we’re not talking about Rudolph. Pay-and-order capabilities are being integrated into the dashboard consoles of Fords and BMWs, giving passengers access to a host of restaurants and sparing them the task of going app by app.

No doubt there are plenty of coveted things in that lumpy sack of yours (and I hope they don’t scratch the keys in there for my new Tesla). But do the industry a favor, Santa, and provide some guidance on what’s become a central question, given the surge in digital ordering: to app or not to app? 

Oh, and please pass along Restaurant Business’ wishes for the most peaceful of holidays and busiest of  seasons leading into the New Year. 

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