When developed right, restaurant apps can solve a lot of headaches of restaurant owners. Usually, such apps make life easier for both restaurant owners/managers and guests. Depending on the goal you want to achieve by creating a restaurant app, the feature set for it may differ.
If you want to fine-tune a restaurant’s business processes, you might want to focus on building a custom point of sale (POS) solution to conveniently manage restaurant tables, menus, and staff.
But how do you improve the experience for restaurant guests? This is probably a task for a restaurant reservation solution or a food delivery app. Most significantly, you should start by articulating your business’s overall objective for building an app. To define your business objective, consider specific problems that restaurants and guests encounter.
Every specific problem is a potential opportunity for your app. For example, your app’s objective may be to help your restaurant increase table turnover at certain times of the day or generate more deliveries from a specific location.
In this article, we discuss what problems can be solved by building a restaurant application. In particular, we'll take a close look at two sets of problems — those faced by restaurants and those faced by restaurant-goers, and offer you several ways to deal with these challenges.
What problems can your app solve?
Restaurants often face such problems as uneven client turnover, high cancellation rates, and long wait times. As a result, they lose guests and money. Let’s look at each of these problems and consider in detail how your app for restaurant owners and restaurant-goers can help to solve them.
Problem #1: Uneven client turnover
All restaurants, large and small, have problems with uneven client turnover.
Having a lot of tables means higher rent and more staff, which in turn means you need to attract many guests 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 guests unsatisfied.
An Android or iOS mobile app along with a website app can help restaurants solve the problem of customer turnover in a couple of ways.
1. Allow guests to book tables in advance
Knowing how many people are going to be in a restaurant at a given time leads to greater efficiency 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 people. But table booking apps can help establishments increase their profits from every single guest by letting guests bid on reservations and compete for high-demand tables. Apps like Tock let users join waitlists, which is another feature appreciated by restaurant-goers.
For smaller venues, it’s crucial to provide a digitized restaurant seating map (ideally, an interactive map) to show guests which tables are booked and 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. Restaurant-goers want to filter search results according to various criteria, the most popular being date, time, number of guests, price, and table location (for example, by a window). Developing quick-service restaurant apps requires a thorough understanding of what users want from this type of service. For example, OpenTable, the most popular table reservation app that also provides solutions for restaurants, allows users to book based on date, cost, time, and party size.
2. Incentivize same-day and last-minute bookings with discounts
One more thing your app can do is offer discounts for same-day or last-minute bookings during slower hours. The travel industry has employed a similar idea for years already. The Hotel Tonight app, for example, offers last-minute deals to attract guests with great bargains.
Many diners don’t plan to go to a restaurant ahead of time. That’s why there are a lot of restaurant booking apps to help solve booking woes. OpenTable, Yelp, Resy, and DINR provide users with last-minute reservations. Apps such as Crave are designed for restaurant companies that want to offer last-minute deals to fill empty tables.
How can you further improve online table reservations?
Guests leave restaurants and users abandon apps when their needs aren’t adequately met. In the case of restaurant apps, people want several core features: detailed menus, reviews, and loyalty programs. Let’s see how you can provide these features.
1. Menus, ratings, and reviews
According to Upserve, 90 percent of guests research a restaurant before dining there — a higher percentage than for any other type of business. 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, easy to browse, and visually tempting. The availability of ratings and reviews will also help users choose a restaurant for online ordering.
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 that are vegan or vegetarian, low-calorie, low in sugar, rich in antioxidants, etc. Also, include calorie counts.
Indicate if ingredients are organic or locally farmed: healthy, locally harvested foods are in demand.
Don’t neglect to show restaurant ratings and enable users to view and provide feedback about the places they’ve visited. For example, the OpenTable app allows users to share their impressions of venues by commenting and rating the food, ambiance, and service from one to five stars.
2. Personalize the experience
User profiles are another great solution for saving your customers’ time. Profiles can include a list of favorite dishes, order history, and contact information such as a user’s 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 guests. Surveys show that the paradox of choice (being given too many options) can result in people abandoning your app for good.
3. Integrate with other services
You can empower your app with taxi booking functionality. For instance, you can integrate the Uber API and Ride Request Widget. The Uber Rides SDK and APIs help developers to easily implement these integrations.
Thanks to integration with the Uber API, the location platform Foursquare enables app users not just to find the nearest restaurant but also to hail an Uber taxi in-app. Foursquare users can book a car as they browse Foursquare’s recommendations.
4. Cancel bookings via the app
There’s a pretty extreme trend being adopted by many restaurants of naming, shaming, and even banning guests who forget about bookings. But this method is rather radical and undermines the goodwill of customers.
In addition to more humane measures like taking credit card details and requiring a reasonable late cancellation fee, you can use your app to reduce the cancellation rate. Giving diners the flexibility to cancel their reservations via the app will help you rebook tables with other customers.
5. Reservation reminders
To prevent no-shows and consequently maximize your profits, be sure to send reservation reminders. This scheduling practice has been adopted by many restaurant apps including OpenTable, which has an in-app calendar to help users remember that they’ve booked a table. Apple, Google, and Microsoft provide calendar APIs that can be easily implemented in any app.
6. Loyalty points
Offering discounts for booking via your app will encourage users to take advantage of the offer. TheFork app offers a code that guests can use when making their first reservation. For making a reservation using this code, guests get 1,000 points, called “Yums,” that they can use as a discount on their next meal. The BigDish app is also popular for providing significant discounts that are automatically applied to the user’s bill. All users have to do to save on their meal is show their server the app.
Problem #2: Long wait times
Often, people don’t have the luxury of time to wait for a table and then wait for the 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 issues that your app has to address.
A pre-ordering app helps people save time and effort and helps them get their food and drinks 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. Allset describes their target audience as businesspeople 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 increase table turnover, which is particularly critical for “hot hours” like lunch and Friday nights.
Tips and tricks:
A key feature to consider if you’re working on a pre-ordering app is a simple and safe option for one-tap payment that cuts down the time necessary for dealing with bills, terminals, receipts, and tips. Pre-ordering apps seem to primarily target a restaurant’s customers, but they can also be useful for owners and even alcohol brands.
You should also include a text field in the order form where guests can indicate how they want their food cooked.
Problem #3: Losing customers
If your restaurant is overloaded with guests at rush hour, you can’t serve everyone. This prevents people from becoming your loyal customers as they switch to places with more space. How can you avoid this issue?
Local delivery service
Providing a local delivery service is likely to help you maintain customer loyalty to your brand. This service will also help you reach those customers who prefer food delivery over going out. According to eMarketer, over 20 percent of US smartphone users will use a food delivery app by 2021.
Delivery apps work like aggregators, offering food delivery from multiple independent restaurants. Restaurants can benefit from ordering apps like Postmates, Uber Eats, Seamless, and Eat24 because they bring in new customers and can effectively replace old-fashioned phone ordering systems. Customers benefit from delivery apps because they can get tasty food from their favorite places delivered to their doorstep or office at any time.
Tips and tricks:
By drawing up contracts with partnering restaurants, you can negotiate how to market their products more effectively to derive more revenue for both sides by choosing winning menu items, confirming prices, and establishing methods for hassle-free delivery.
It’s a common tactic to offer a POS solution as an extension of your delivery platform. Being tightly integrated with a food ordering and delivery platform, your POS solution will let your restaurant easily accept, process, and serve orders accepted online. Other useful POS system features may help restaurants with managing their space, menus, and staff while serving in-restaurant visitors.
Thoughts to take home for restaurant app development:
Aim to solve a critical problem both for restaurants and for restaurant-goers. Provide calendar integration to show users upcoming bookings, offer in-app navigation, or even integrate with Uber to let users call a taxi via your app.
Design a clean, user-friendly 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 restaurant management system will better partner with, then come up with a monetization strategy that won’t intimidate that target audience.
Combine several types of apps into one: for example, unite table booking with pre-ordering and a CRM system.
Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the latest technologies in the hospitality industry: use iBeacons to notify your guests about special offers or personalized coupons or use machine learning to suggest items based on a customer’s order history, and create a restaurant management app for your employees.
People want personalization and uniqueness. Some restaurant apps benefit from this desire. Take Tock, for example. Tock specializes in finding unique culinary experiences around the world. So think outside the box to build custom applications that users will appreciate.
Completing restaurant software development and launching a successful app for startups might seem challenging, but with a solid product strategy, the high-quality results may just beat your expectations.