C’mon Get Mobile: Restaurants Reach Out In New Ways

By the end of 2010, 1.2 billion people will carry a smart phone, according to some estimates. As the use of mobile applications grows, restaurant consulting companies are talking more and more about what businesses should be doing to capture user attention and drive sales.

Many of the “big” guys are finding success with custom-made phone ordering and reservation apps, but unless you’re a Pizza Hut, the cost to develop a customized app far outweigh the benefits. Some restaurants have chosen to partner with others; OpenTable, for instance, allows for easy mobile reservations, a plus for restaurants who partner with the online reservationist. Though, as this article written by a San Francisco restauranteur explores, restaurants should think hard about the overall financial proposition when partnering with companies like OpenTable.

There are simple steps that restaurateurs can take, however, to boost their mobile presence, say restaurant consultants. They should make sure, of course, that they’re listed on widely used sites like Yelp, FourSquare, Google Maps, Urbanspoon, Gowalla, and Zagat Survey.  This recent Serious Eats piece identifies the top must-have food apps, and among them is Foodspotting (where diners search for specific dishes). Of course, with many of these apps,  monitoring feedback and responding to negative comments can go a long way to building loyalty. As Coyle’s restaurant secret shoppers find, service recovery is an important part of the guest experience –  one that’s often a weak link for businesses. Connecting to these mobile users, who can instantly tweet their pleasure or displeasure, is paramount. Customers usually pick their favorite app and then use it exclusively to search for restaurants, so restaurants should connect to as many as possible to capture these users.  

Another way in which restaurants can boost customer service through mobile apps is by using them to survey guests. One such company, discussed in this article, has developed a fully customizable app for surveying diners on their iPods, iPhones, BlackBerrys and other smartphone devices, sometimes before they even leave the restaurant itself. A great feature to gathering customer feedback so instantly is that when an unpleasant experience is reported, management can reach out to a guest before they leave and rectify the problem. This builds both guest satisfaction and brand loyalty.

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