Mobile apps and restaurant convenience: What are you waiting for?

By Jennifer Gausby

I was running late for work one morning, but was in desperate need of a jolt of caffeine. Thanks to Starbucks’ “mobile order and pay” application, I placed my double tall, non-fat latte order en route, and when I arrived at my local Starbucks my prepaid latte was ready and waiting for me. I was in and out in a matter of seconds. Thanks Starbucks, I’ll definitely be back again tomorrow morning.

Today’s restaurants need to bank on more than food cravings to drive visits. Consumers expect a seamless and convenient experience and look to technology to make it happen. New advancements are helping restaurants better cater to our increasingly fast-paced society.

Millennials are a major reason for the re-shaping of the restaurant industry — and considering their buying power, it’s important for restaurants to cater to their needs. Millennials are much more tech-savvy, fast paced and enthusiastic (as well as informed) about food, and they dine out more frequently than any other demographic. They spend the time to research restaurant options (e.g., reading online reviews, looking at menus, etc.) and expect easy-to-find and honest answers to ingredient sourcing and health-related questions.

A recent study conducted by BrandSpark International revealed that four out of every 10 people that range from 18 to 34 years old are interested in electronic ordering systems, having menus on iPads/tablets and using self-service, touch-screen kiosks for ordering. It simply enhances their experience.

Technological innovations create efficiencies both front and back of house, and allow real-time marketing via mobile devices. To drive traffic, however, there has to be real value for your customers. Ultimately, you need to make their experience faster, better and easier.

FASTER — Patience no longer has to be a virtue.

Waiting in line to place an order will likely be unheard of in the not-too-distant future. Pre-ordering and paying for your order online or via mobile is being adopted by more brands and will likely become the norm for consumers. According to Starbucks, mobile and Starbucks card payments account for quite a large chunk of sales. The fact that guests can simply “scan and go” when paying via the Starbucks app has gone over extremely well.

Advancements in technology mean patrons are less dependent on servers and can take action to get what they want, when they want it. Tablets tableside allow patrons to place their own order – making all the modifications they like – without having to wait for their server to finish up with another table. Tableside POS can also speed up service for diners who are in a hurry. When they become used to having these options, they will be much less patient with slow service at restaurants that don’t offer such convenience.

BETTER — It’s no longer about just letting you “have it your way.”

Customization and personalization is part of our modern society – and more and more customers are demanding it on the fly. Digital ordering and mobile apps enable restaurants to know their customers’ likes and push out personalized food recommendations, offers and promotions. Not only is this an effective way to draw consumers back in, they will feel more connected to your brand. Why would I go to restaurant A that’s promoting a double burger with extra cheese and bacon I wouldn’t dream of eating, when restaurant B is reminding me of that lean bison burger I love – and oh, they’re currently offering it at a discounted price…sold!

Delivery is another area of foodservice that has been getting better for consumers. Through the Uber app (an on-demand car service), UberEATS has launched a delivery service that brings food from top restaurants in town to the consumer’s doorstep. It’s the same simple cashless payment system as Uber rides – just tap the app and meet the driver outside when the app notifies you the food has arrived. Ethiopian for lunch? Why not?

The growing popularity of delivery apps will force restaurants to think about speed of service, even if the customer is close by. Why should a customer leave their desk to come to your restaurant, when they can easily have their food delivered from a restaurant across town? If they can pre-order and quickly make the pick-up at your restaurant, perhaps it’s worth stretching their legs and getting some fresh air.

EASIER — Convenience is king.

Remember the Staples “easy button?” It now applies to restaurants. A concept in Dubai has launched a VIP Fridge Magnet – just press it and your pizza will be on its way! It works by triggering a notification to the restaurant through a smartphone which places the last order that was made on the account. Similar to the UberEATS model, consumers receive a confirmation text that the pizza is on its way. How much easier can it get?

Technology such as tablets tableside not only improve speed, they can also make the experience easier and more comfortable for those whose English or French is not very strong – which is particularly important for a multicultural country like Canada. Restaurants aren’t going print their menu in 10 different languages, but if it’s digital, it can be switched to Mandarin at the press of a button. Digital menus can also help give information to consumers – like explaining any unique lingo you may use in your restaurant, helping guide them through your complicated wine list, telling them about the nutritional benefits your meals provide or spelling out ingredients for those with allergies.

Menu ordering kiosks as well as web or mobile apps can also allow guests to save and repeat past orders, regardless of complexity, and save “favourites.”

It’s clear to see the foodservice industry has been changing quickly and dramatically because of our changing society. It’s hard to predict what new technology will be available in 2020, but it’s possible that dining experiences will be fully managed through mobile devices – from searching for the best restaurant for the occasion and finding the closest location, to pressing a button to order your preset favourites prior to arriving, and then paying with a virtual wallet. Then one day in the near future, rather than Uber making delivery better, it might be drones speeding their way through the city to deliver your food.

About the author:

Jennifer Gausby is marketing research manager at BrandSpark International, a leading brand, marketing, and product innovation research company with more than 10 years’ experience in the restaurant industry. For more information, visit

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