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Any restaurant operator who remains doubtful about the value of mobile commerce would do well to view a simple graph that visually compared the rate of PC use to mobile use by restaurant customers in China over the last two years. It’s really a giant “X” with a red line for mobile use pointing up and a blue line for PC use plummeting down. You might even think of that “X” as representing what will happen restaurant brands that fail to adapt to this trend now, according to the researchers behind the graph.

During last month’s Fast Casual Executive Summit in Dana Point, California, Elizabeth Friend, Euromonitor International’s senior food strategy analyst Elizabeth Friend referrred to the trend portrayed in that graph as an encapsulation of the idea that her firm’s data strongly suggests that restaurants today must, “Adapt to mobile commerce or die.”

“The U.S. value of purchases in restaurants is all increasing a lot over the next five years, going from P.C. to mobile by 2020,” she said. “And there is also an incredible evolution (that’s taken place) over the past five years … where we used to have clear expectations of what we’d get at fast food restaurants. But now you can get everything as far as food, price and delivery … and mobile is contributing to all of that.”

The information set the stage for a lively one-hour question-and-answer session about mobile commerce with restaurant mobile innovators Christi Christian, marketing director at Urbane Cafe, and Aaron Noveshen, founder and CEO of Starbird and the Culinary Edge. LevelUp Chief Sales Officer Christina Dorobek moderated the session, which provided these five takeaways for brands striving to embrace mobile.

1.    Develop an app that’s easy for everybody.

As Starbird’s Aaron Novashen put it, after figuring out what your brand represents, make sure your app is easy for all ages, tech skills and mobile users to actually order and communicate with.

“We are always showing (the app) to others to get their feedback, particularly criticism,” he said. “We try to look at the bottom rung of the ladder of understanding about how to use the app and go from there.  … There’s too much noise and too many functions in most apps. You need to look at what customers need and not what the business needs.”

2. Mobile apps should make users feel special.

Christian said it’s essential that brands reward their mobile app users for taking the time and space on their ever-more-crowded mobile screens to include their app.

“We piloted using one (chain) location for in-store and online ordering,” she said. “The key for us was to make guests with the app feel ‘special’ — like VIPs. As an example, every time someone downloads the app it gives a percentage to their charity.”

3. Expect to make m mistakes.

Novashen and Christian said they made plenty of mistakes along the way to creating their apps. As Novashen said, “It’s been painful,” but he said restaurateurs need to consider the overall importance of this element to their livelihoods, then mentally prepare to put more dollars into the technology than they anticipated, while fully expecting some hard knocks along the way.

They agreed however, that the investment was worth it, particularly for features that can produce ongoing data that is useful to your brand, stellar POS features and seamless back-office functionality. Novashen advised that if he had it to do again, he would probably put more cash into the initial app promotion and staff training, a thought echoed by Christian.

“If you are going to do it, take the time and money to do it right,” she said.

4. Include a system for handling big orders.

If planning had not been built in for large orders, Christian said, she would have failed.

“This is a huge issue and we do have a limit for online orders,” she said.

Novashen agreed, explaining that he has some fail-safe options for big orders, “We can call (ordering parties) back (through the Starbird app) and we can print labels for every order. That helps. (The Starbird app) also flags orders for $100 and more.”

5. Apps are about what the customer wants, not what the business needs.

This is a big one, according to Christian, who found that one of the quickest ways to delighting her customers is by helping them save time. The app does just that; it reduces time spent waiting in line and streamlines order retrieval.

“Again, it’s all about the customer,” Novashen added. “Think about the customer first and what makes them whole, happy and excited. Use technology to help with that.”

Friend agreed.

“Respect your customers’ different needs, and don’t pay so much attention to making customers do what you want them to do. … Find a way to make your app make your customers happy.”


S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, S.A. Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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