Restaurant chains eat up mobile for more personal, timely relationships

While each industry vertical has its own pace of technology innovation and risk-versus-reward criteria in regard to adoption, restaurant chains are experimenting heavily with mobile at present due to many customers using search, reviews and ordering from restaurants via smartphones.

Due to the on-the-go nature of their businesses, fast-casual chains need to be available to their customers on mobile. The tactics being embraced by this category include apps, responsive sites, virtual reality, QR codes and messaging to name a few, but this technology-focused approach is changing as the brands in this category as well as others are learning more about their mobile customers and how to interact with them to create a fluid mobile conversation.

“As mobile technology enhances through new and emerging technologies, the restaurant industry is beginning to acknowledge their value to the space,” said Hope Neiman, chief marketing officer with Tillster.

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“Five years ago, the industry wasn’t prepared to adopt technology within their restaurants, but today we are seeing an explosion and a willingness to create trials.

“Now, you’re hard pressed to find a restaurant brand that isn’t developing its own use case for the technology or working with a partner company to do so. Mobile payments, beacon technology, location-based coupons – all of these things are just now reaching a tipping point within the industry and allowing restaurants to engage with customers on an entirely different level,” she said.

Insertion of mobile
Marketers are getting smarter about how to use each touch point as part of conversation. Perhaps the biggest challenge that has influenced this shift is that the number of apps available continues to increase, yet the average smartphone user consistently has only about 26 apps on their device at a given time. This means it will be difficult – if not impossible – for a restaurant app to become one of those 26.

Mobile is a natural fit for the food and beverage brands because the nature of the category lends itself to loyal, repeat customers and a frequent purchase pattern. Customers often eat on the go, and consequently rely on their mobile device to browse menus, read reviews, search for promotions and locate establishments.

“Customers have come to expect an ease of interaction with all brands via mobile, and the Food & Beverage industry is no exception,” said Cezar Kolodziej, president , CEO and co-founder of Iris Mobile . “Brands should embrace this trend because when used correctly, mobile can drive business into the door through awareness about new items, discounts, or special offers via mobile message, passbook, web, or mobile apps when appropriate.”

Just as important as share of wallet, restaurants are also competing for consumers’ share of time.

“Time and order accuracy have become a key decision factor for consumers making a purchase decision and brands are encouraging consumers to use their mobile and online ordering apps to save time, improve order accuracy and simplify the process,” said Scott Thaler, chief digital officer with Zimmerman Advertising. “Success can be seen through larger tickets, shorter wait times, increased order accuracy and overall operational improvements.

“Gone are the days of bombarding a population with marketing messages that you hope will spur a few to action—with mobile, it’s personal,” he said.

The food and beverage industry has embraced mobile to help propel their brands and businesses in a number of ways. In the past, restaurants had to rely on coupons, direct mail and billboards to bring in more customers, to increase frequency of visits and to drive larger checks. In the mobile age, brands can leverage mobile marketing to bring about even better results.

Who’s winning?
Beyond using mobile to speed the ordering process and improve accuracy, brands are finding success when their mobile offerings are tailored to consumers’ mobile environment-related habits and preferences.

Some chains are adopting messaging strategies to implement ongoing communication with loyal customers, which is showing positive signs demonstrated through engagement and redemption.

“The mobile device has become an extension of the customer, so if brands want to reach the customer, their most direct channel is via mobile device,” Iris Mobile’s Mr. Kolodziej said.

“Mobile messaging in particular offers an immediacy of communication that is not possible with other forms of media since 97 percent of messages are typically read within the first 3 minutes, which is a very advantageous behavior for marketers.”

With mobile at hand, people are able to make informed decisions about where they eat and what they eat with great ease and efficiency. Marketers can capitalize on mobile behavior by serving up timely, relevant and even personalized information to drive business into the door.

At present, most establishments are in the trial phase with mobile and have not implemented fully effective mobile conversations. This means the ability to drive customers from one mobile touch point to another, engaging with them on an ongoing basis with timely, relevant content.

However there are many establishments that have executed interesting and engaging campaigns, such as Longhorn Steakhouse, who allowed customers to text in during the 4th of July holiday last month to receive culinary advice from one of their expert grill masters.

Grill master hotline

Burger King also does a great job of using mobile technology to deliver a unique experience for their customers.

By working with Tillster, Burger King launched a mobile app that integrates coupons, mobile payments and the menu as well as location.