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Location, location, location

In restaurants, technology that targets guests based on where they are is about service, not science.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: A man walks into a bar ... and immediately gets an alert on his smartphone upselling him a dessert on his meal.

A decade ago it was the stuff  of sci-fi movies, but for today’s businesses, it’s becoming a reality. Beacons and other location-based technology already are going mainstream in the retail space. Lord & Taylor, Timberland and others have rolled out the technology, which uses sensors and a Bluetooth low-energy signal to send mobile offers to an app on customers’ smartphones based on where they are in the store. Now restaurants are getting in the game, using geotargeting to deliver hospitality in new ways.

“One exciting thing is it’s improving service,” says Benjamin Lawrence, associate professor of food and beverage management at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. “If you know someone is in a certain vicinity, you can time the service delivery ... to be ready at the optimal moment. That allows for a better customer experience without the consumer having to do anything.”

What a customer would have to do is opt in. Currently, most geotargeting happens via mobile apps that consumers download. The creepier scenario where companies push advertising out to unwilling consumers as they walk by, even if possible, is unpopular. A March study by OpinionLab found 64 percent of consumers say the best approach to mobile tracking is opt-in; only 12 percent are OK with being automatically tracked.

For San Francisco Soup Company, convenience, not a customer-grab, was the motivation for its mobile app that uses iBeacon technology to call up its loyalty program when a customer walks in the door. “We didn’t want a loyalty card. We didn’t want people to have to enter a phone number,” says Clayton Chan, chief operating officer at the 18-unit fast casual. “We wanted to save time for the customer and hope it will maintain our line speed or throughput by doing this.”

At Soup Co.’s Financial District location, where it’s doing a beta test, the beacon picks up on customers when they enter, and their information shows up on the restaurant’s tablet system. When the guest tells the cashier his name, the cashier can automatically credit the purchase to the guest’s loyalty account, no card needed. Chan estimates it saves five to 10 seconds per transaction.

He says it’s too early to tell how guests are liking the beacon program, but the setup was easy and inexpensive; the cost is in the app and marketing. “What we’ve learned is, although the technology may be cool, the customer still has to be engaged with your brand. You have to be strong with the fundamentals or the technology doesn’t help you at all.”

Location locution

Navigating the language of a fast-growing field

Mobile marketingiBeaconBLE
Marketing on or with a mobile deviceApple’s technology that turns a smartphone into a trackable beaconBluetooth low energy; wireless technology that beacons use to talk to apps


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