3 Effective Product Strategies for Restaurant Apps: How to Satisfy Needs of both Restaurant Owners and Guests

Restaurant apps target two groups of clients: restaurants themselves and their guests.

Each group is looking for a slightly different set of features in a mobile app. To develop a successful restaurant-focused app, consider how your app will cater both to restauranteurs and restaurant-goers – before you invest in developing your product strategy. Most significantly, you must articulate your app’s overall objective. Perhaps your app’s objective is to increase table turnover at certain times of the day, or to generate more delivery orders from a specific location.

How can you define your app’s objective? First, consider specific problems that restaurants or app users encounter when trying to pre-order food or book a table, for example, and go from there. Every problem a restaurant faces is an opportunity for your app.

We will now look at several problems that restaurants face and several problems that restaurant-goers face.

What problems can your app solve?

Restaurant app development can't result in a successful product unless you understand how a particular industry works.

Uneven client turnover

All restaurants – large and small – have problems with uneven client turnover.

Having a great number of tables means higher rent and more staff, which in turn means you need to attract many clients to keep your business afloat and even more if you want it to be profitable. But on the other hand, having a limited number of tables means inevitably leaving some potential clients unsatisfied.

A mobile app can help restaurants solve the problem of client turnover in three ways.

1. Allowing guests to book a table in advance.

Knowing how many people are going to be in a restaurant at a given time leads to greater efficiency for restaurants and fewer headaches for restaurant owners and managers. Plus, guests appreciate the opportunity to book a cozy table in advance and not worry about availability.

An inevitably limited number of tables still means that restaurants can only accommodate a certain number of clients. But table booking apps can also help venues increase their profits from every single guest by letting guests bid on reservations and compete for high-demand tables.

For smaller venues it is crucial to provide a restaurant seating map (ideally, an interactive map) to show clients which tables are booked until when. App-based bookings can provide more even turnover, and allow people to see how busy a restaurant is without calling or showing up in person.

Filters also matter for table reservation apps. Resturant-goes want to filter search results according tovarious criteria, the most popular being date, time, number of guests, price and table location (for example, by a window). Developing restaurant apps requires a thorough understanding of what users want from this type of service. For example, the most popular table reservation app OpenTable allows users to book based on date, time, and party size. 

2. Integrating payment capabilities.

Another solution involves integrating payment capabilities when you build your restaurant app, letting dining establishments automatically charge the bill to a credit card. Last year we saw Red Robin, a popular US burger chain, introduce tablets in all their locations, allowing customers to order and pay on their own timing. Now the most recent trend involves using fully-integrated payment solutions when the payment is processed through a mobile app itself. Paying for the order with one tap means that guests won’t have to wait for the receipt and the restaurant will achieve faster turnover.

3. Incentivizing same-day bookings with discounts.

One more thing your app can do is to offer same-day bookings during slower hours, rewarded by discounts. The travel industry has employed a similar idea for years already, like in case with Hotel Tonight app that offers last minute deals, attracting guests with great bargains.

Some apps like TableSAVYY compensate their clients booking during off-hours by offering as much as 30 percent off.

High cancellation rate

Clients leave restaurants and users abandon apps when their needs aren’t adequately met. In the case of restaurant apps, people want several core features: a detailed menu, access to reviews and loyalty programs. Let’s see how you can provide these features for your clients.

1. Menu.

According to the Statista website, more than 50 percent of all restaurant-goers in the USA use a restaurant app to view menus and prices. This suggests that well-designed menus in your app will result in a better retention rate. Effective menus for a restaurant app should meet three criteria: they should be informative, they should be easy to browse, and they should be visually tempting.

Tips and tricks:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of good food photography. Be sure to hire a pro! Mouth-watering images will attract first-time guests and present restaurants in the best possible light.
  • Add special signs to highlight foods with certain health benefits (vegan or vegetarian, low-calorie, low in sugar, rich in antioxidants, etc), and include calorie counts.
  • Indicate if ingredients are organic or locally farmed: healthy locally harvested foods are in demand.

2. Loyalty programs.

Loyalty programs reward restaurant guests for continued patronage. Rewards may be tied to number of restaurant visits, certain types of food that are ordered, or amount of the bill. Consider a possibility to create a restaurant app in support for customised notifications – for example, providing a one-time discount for a guest’s birthday.

Allow your app to serve as the universal discount card for each venue your app partners with – guests will surely appreciate that they don’t have to carry a physical card for each location.

Tips and tricks:

  • There are two popular strategies for restaurant loyalty programs: seasonal food offers and themed food promotions.
  • Seasonal food offers are very common because certain foods sell better during certain seasons. But how can your app benefit from seasonal food offers? Partner with restaurants to introduce special offers just for your app users. People like to feel they are getting something exclusive, and promoting a seasonal menu that is only available to them offers exclusivity.
  • Themed food promotions involve a third party – for example, your app could partner with a local movie theatre or an entertainment park to offer cross-promotions to frequent customers. Restaurants as well as local entertainment venues and attractions can benefit from promotional partnerships.

Long wait times

Very often people don’t have the luxury of time to wait for a table and then wait for a bill. Providing fast service at busy times is tricky for some venues, but that’s where an app comes in handy. When you design a strategy for a restaurant app you should try to predict similar issues that your app has to address.

1.  Pre-ordering

restaurant preordering appsA pre-ordering app helps people save time and effort and helps them get their meal as soon as possible. Most pre-ordering apps also include table booking features, and some even let guests give specific instructions for meal preparation. Table-booking apps only get you a table, while pre-ordering apps get you a table and an already-prepared meal.

AllSet is one of the most popular pre-ordering apps currently on the market. They describe their target audience as business people who are in a hurry during lunch break and want a table without a wait. Restaurants also benefit from partnering with Allset and similar apps because they bring faster table turnover, which is particularly critical for “hot hours” like lunch or Friday nights.

A key feature to consider if you are working on a pre-ordering app is a simple and safe option for one-tap payment that cuts down time necessary for dealing with bills, terminals, receipts, and tips. Pre-ordering apps seem to primarily target a restaurant’s clients, but they can also be useful for venue owners and even alcohol brands.

Tips and tricks:

  • Core features you should invest in while developing your pre-ordering app include a customisable form for filling in the order (where clients can indicate how they want their meals cooked) and instant payment options.

2. Local delivery service

Delivery apps are another category of restaurant apps that can help people save time. Delivery apps work like aggregators, offering food delivery from multiple independent restaurants. Restaurants can benefit from ordering apps like Seamless and Eat24 because these apps bring in many new customers, and can effectively  replace old-fashioned phone-ordering systems. Customers benefit from delivery apps because they can get tasty meals delivered to their doorstep or office at any time.

How can your delivery app offer the greatest benefit to customers?

  • Simple restaurant discovery

Make your filters informative but simple to use: people normally browse delivery apps based on types of cuisine and restaurant name and location, so these should be your core filters. Your app can even partner with smaller venues (for example, a family-run country pub) that might not have enough staff to take and process phone orders otherwise.  

  • Customer service

In delivery apps people often look customer service available 24/7 in case something goes wrong with the order.

  • Personalized experience

User profiles are another great solution for saving your customers’ time. Profiles can include a list of favourite dishes, order history, and contact information such as address and phone number. With user profiles, regular customers won’t have to re-enter information at all stages of the ordering process every time they use your app.

You can even use machine learning algorithms to offer curated food choices to your regular customers. Surveys show that the paradox of choice (being given too many options) can result in people abandoning your app for good.

A delivery app’s monetization strategy is another very important consideration. In many cases, your particular monetization strategy will depend on the type of venues that your app partners with. Some apps like Caviar and Postmates, for example, charge relatively high fees ($2-$5 for Caviar, $3-$8.50 for Postmates). This works for the right clientele at bigger, fancier venues in more expensive locations (like New York city), but it’s doubtful that a small cafe’s clientele will be willing to tack this much additional cost onto their ten-dollar lunch special.

on-demand delivery apps for restaurants

[The Caviar app. Source: Mashable]

Restaurant app strategies can differ depending on a particular set of features. Some apps will be more focused on monetization strategy, while others will be mostly concerned about long-term user retention. It's up to restaurant app builder to decide what they want to prioritize in their development.

Thoughts to take home when developing an app for restaurants:

  • Aim to solve a critical problem both for restaurants and for restaurant-goers.

  • Design a clean, easy-to-use interface, but don’t forget about mouth-watering images for the menu.

  • Integrate filters, but remember that too many is bad - don’t make the choice too difficult for your users. Opt for a few core options: price, location, type of cuisine, number of guests, and then allow users to type in additional requirements.

  • Think about  the type of establishments your app will partner with, and then come up with a monetization strategy that won’t intimidate that target audience.

  • Combine several types of apps into one: for example, pair table booking with pre-ordering.

  • Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the latest technologies: use iBeacons to notify your guests about special offers or personalised coupons or use machine learning to suggest items based on a customer’s order history.

Launching a successful app for a restaurant might seem very challenging, but with a solid product strategy the results may just beat your expectations.

Read also: How to write RFP to your potential partner

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