Restaurants are serving a different kind of app

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Restaurants are giving a whole new meaning to the term app. It's not what you're thinking – these aren't the small plates of food that you ravenously devour prior to receiving your entree. No, these are mobile applications, and while they don't satisfy hunger, they make your life easier. Here's how they're taking over the restaurant scene and what you need to know if you'd like to create a digital masterpiece of your own.

The start of mobilization
Apps gained traction in the service industry as a tool to help with operations and supply, according to Jeff Weiss of Dave & Buster's. Recently, they've evolved into more client-centric services.

"It used to be kind of a tool for operations or a supplement, and [it] is now stepping forward and becoming an actual profit center and driving the sales," said Weiss, information technology director, reported Nation's Restaurant News.

Drive sales, increase profit
Business 2 Community contributor Andrew Gazdecki confirmed the assumption that mobile apps can increase sales by pointing out that they're an opportunity for people to directly order from the company, even when they aren't physically there. Most apps also offer push notifications, which can generate revenue because companies have the chance to promote sales, special offers and events. Use your app to track who'll be dining in the restaurant and who'll be attending events. Establishments that have already started engaging with their clients via mobile apps have reported them to be beneficial. 

Quieting concerns
The chief operating officer of Tossed of Boston told QSR magazine that he's been happy since the rollout of mobile payments and loyalty apps in several locations back in January, but he certainly had his doubts prior to implementation. Here are his three concerns and how restaurants can get over them, courtesy of QSR.

1. Frequency
Weiss was concerned whether he would be able to see a correlation between his mobile investment and client frequency. In general, however, allowing customers to pay or make reservations via iPhones can be a positive in this department.

Think about it. If guests can swipe to make a reservation, that's less work over the phone for them and the restaurant. Apps can also offer more efficiency and organization than, say, a printed reservation booklet. How many times has a group of people showed up unannounced, certain they've made a reservation? Mobile apps can potentially lower the odds of this scenario.

2. Check average
Weiss was also curious if mobile apps could boost check averages, and the short answer is yes. In a separate Nation's Restaurant News article, Starbucks was mentioned for achieving stellar sales that have steadily inclined since they've deployed mobile apps. Howard Schulz, Starbucks' president, told NRN that around 12 million customers from the U.S. and Canada have downloaded the company's mobile app and overall payments from mobile devices account for 15 percent of overall transactions. Since the company is huge, that number equals about 6 million transactions weekly. 

Starbuck officials believe that they're able to drive more traffic because the app allows people to peruse Starbucks even when the cafe isn't open. If people already scope out the products before they enter the store, it can also make the line move faster and potentially equal fewer walk outs.

3. Guests
As far as the guests are concerned, mobile apps and rewards programs can be alluring and beneficial. People who download Starbuck's app and use it to pay are automatically enrolled in a rewards program that includes free song downloads, complementary coffee drinks and other goodies. Other restaurants have similar set ups and some even give away larger prizes via the mobile apps.

In one case explained by the Wall Street Journal, Papa Murphy's restaurants used an app as a means to boost customer retention. They'd automatically send a free gift to clients who haven't visited the restaurant in 30, 60, or 90 days. Some of these offers include discounts and free pizzas. It's a direct line of communication to invite guests back to the establishment and a win for both guests and restaurant owners.

Restaurants that wish to deploy a mobile app should do so to drive sales and make the guests happier.

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