What is a Restaurant Mobile App?

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Let’s talk about types of restaurant mobile apps, what they're good (and not good) for, and what it takes to build one.

Developing your own customer-facing mobile app is no easy task. But is it the right move for your restaurant? 

Restaurant apps have proven to be very successful for chains with massive scale — like Starbucks or Panera, for example. For your guests to add your app to their device, especially when they already have so many apps on their mobile devices, means it must be the right fit for both your restaurant and your customers.

Here are some things to consider before building a restaurant app, including key elements required for making your app enticing for customers and profitable for your restaurant.

What is a restaurant mobile app?

First, let’s go over the basics. 

A restaurant mobile app is an application dedicated to a specific restaurant concept or chain of restaurants. Whether you own an Android or an iPhone, you use mobile apps on your phone every day. 

Most restaurant apps are centered around online ordering, but they can also include information on the restaurant’s loyalty program, specials, and ongoing promotions. Some restaurant apps even allow guests to place table reservations or check their spot on the waitlist. 

For many large chain restaurants, apps are a must-have. Starbucks revolutionized the concept of ordering ahead with its mobile app. In fact, Starbucks claims the second place spot for the most mobile payment users in the United States at 31.2 million users, second only to the Apple Wallet app itself. 

Smaller restaurant chains like Flour Bakery in Boston have also found success in launching a local restaurant app, using it as a platform for guests to accrue and use customer loyalty points. 

While it's rare for an app to make sense for a one-location small restaurant — (we’ll get into why in a bit) — it’s good to know the fundamentals of app development so you can make an informed decision for your restaurant.  

What are restaurant ordering apps? 

Restaurant ordering apps are platforms that combine many restaurants into one system and facilitate online ordering for pickup and delivery. The most popular of these restaurant ordering apps are Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Postmates. As a restaurant owner, you may have also heard these platforms referred to as third-party delivery platforms

While these platforms are incredibly popular with consumers, they often come with high costs: up to 30% of every order is paid in fees to third-party aggregators. These costs drastically eat into a restaurant's bottom line, and profit margins are already tight. Using these third-party apps also takes away the ability for restaurants to capture valuable customer data, control their branding, and create loyal customers. 

The Toast TakeOut app gives restaurants complete control over their online ordering. When your guests order through the Toast TakeOut app, there are no commission fees — so your restaurant won’t be losing out on any hard-earned revenue. And Toast TakeOut easily integrates with your existing Toast technology, meaning that important guest data is all under your control and ready to use for loyalty and marketing purposes. 

If you are looking to dip your toes into restaurant ordering apps but don’t want to build your own, Toast TakeOut is a great option to provide an online food ordering system for your guests without losing money to third-party platforms.

Toast Online Ordering
Learn how a better online ordering system can help you save time and grow revenue.

Should I create an app for my restaurant?

Restaurant mobile apps like the ones above are sufficient for most restaurants, especially those with only one or two locations. Apps like Toast TakeOut provide all of the value of an individual restaurant ordering app or restaurant loyalty app, including online ordering, guest loyalty, and promotions, without the high cost of developing your own app.

Apps can be expensive and technically challenging — and without widespread adoption, they might be more trouble than they’re worth. 

However, if you’re still looking to create your own app, there are a few things to keep in mind:  

  • Do you have the capital set aside to work with a professional app developer or restaurant app builder? 
  • Do you have plans to expand your restaurant to a large-scale operation with many locations? 
  • Do you have the resources to devote to promoting your app and increasing guest downloads? 
  • Is the functionality that you are looking for so unique to your restaurant that you can’t use an existing solution?

If the answer to all four questions is “yes,” here are a few steps to take to get started.

How to create a mobile app for your restaurant

Survey potential users

Research your customer base to determine if there is interest. Will they use the app? For what purpose? 

Also, take a look into how your customers are currently ordering: Is it mostly in-person? On your website? Through a third-party delivery app? This is helpful to see if there are ways to optimize your guest ordering experience without having to build an app from scratch. 

Find an experienced developer

Find a developer who has experience working with the restaurant industry. In order for this app to be successful, you’ll want to make sure that it has a streamlined interface, intuitive design, and a bug-free user experience. This will only be possible with an experienced developer, so be thoughtful with this decision. 

Ensure the app is in line with your brand 

Your app is an extension of your restaurant brand. Users should expect to have the same type of experience when interacting with your mobile app as they do in-store, so app design is crucial. Restaurant apps strengthen your guest’s relationship with the restaurant, allowing them to have a touchpoint to the kitchen from the palm of their hand.

Sweetgreen has been commended for its thoughtful and strategically designed stores. The brand is built on locally sourced produce to foster healthier communities. The restaurant's design is light, colorful, and eco-friendly, and the app is a direct extension of that aesthetic.

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Integrate it with your existing setup 

Make sure the app will integrate seamlessly with your point of sale (POS), your menu, and your loyalty and rewards program. 

A mobile app should enhance and integrate with in-store technology, working behind the scenes to build a delightful guest experience. The improvements in efficiency provided by a mobile ordering app are null and void if it’s not integrated into your kitchen ticketing or restaurant POS system.

When a customer orders through the Panera app, for example, they can see their name in the queue of orders when they walk into the store. This helps streamline the guest experience and provides a seamless checkout from start to finish.

If you’re not happy with your existing in-store restaurant technology, consider investing in that before expanding to a restaurant app.

Track your ROI 

Track downloads of the app and how much your guests are using it. Make sure to continuously make changes and optimize the app in response to guest feedback, and ensure you’re getting the most out of your investment. 

Your restaurant deserves the best technology

Whether you decide to build a mobile app for your restaurant or not, one thing is for certain: The best restaurant technology will set you up for success. 

Running a restaurant is hard. Using Toast isn’t. Request a demo to see how Toast differs from other point of sale platforms and get a customized walkthrough for your unique needs.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.