How to Build a Restaurant App

It’s hard to find a town or city in the country that doesn’t have a restaurant, fast food stop, cafe or diner ready to feed hungry eaters. Whether they are coming off the road from a long drive, looking to take a night off from eating at home, or an avid food lover after the next big food craze, these establishments allow us to experience different cultures through their food and taste new and exotic flavors from all over the world.

Our taste buds are the biggest competitive differentiator between a successful restaurant and an unsuccessful one. But other factors, like the customer experience and service, also contribute to the success of a restaurant. No matter how phenomenal the food, memories are fleeting. A restaurant mobile app can vastly improve customer experience, as well as the likelihood that the clients remember you and choose to dine with you more frequently.

Alternatively, restaurants and similar eateries that don’t have the best food can provide a better (and more memorable) experience for their customers. A mobile app can significantly improve their chances of closing this margin, giving a restaurant a leg up – even with mediocre offerings. It is one of the best tools a restaurant can use to create their competitive advantage. More specifically, it allows you to extend the customer experience beyond the front doors of your establishment and stay relevant within the minds of eaters that have downloaded the app.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to build a restaurant app and what needs to be considered when developing your mobile solution.

1. App Appearance

App Appearance

The old ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ idiom does not extend to mobile app users. This means your app has to look good, as much as it has to function well and provide value. It starts with the logo or icon of the app. It should be simplistic, containing a single letter or small graphic design, but immediately identifiable as your brand. After all, you wouldn’t want to be confused with another restaurant or business’ app by mistake. The design of the icon may seem like a small detail, but it is the first thing any App Store browser will lay their eyes on; it’s the cover of your app.

After the icon, your next immediate concern is the landing page — the first screen consumers see when they load into an app. The majority of mobile apps, as many as 90%, are downloaded and used once, before eventually being deleted. Only a small fraction of those users will re-download the same app later and give it another try. This means you only have a short window of opportunity to get users enticed and convinced to use your app again and again. Your landing page should not only be neat from a design standpoint, but also demonstrate the different tools, powers, and functions of the app. If your app allows the user to order delivery/pickup or make a reservation through the app, that needs to be apparent in the very first moment they use it.

Ideally, your app should resonate with eaters that know your restaurant and its brand. A restaurant’s mobile app should be looked at as a continuation of the dining experience offered, not a separate entity. Thus, it should have a similar appearance. For example, the font you choose for your app may be the same font used on the menus. The colors and design elements should match the look of the restaurant. Most app builders have some templates to choose from, but if none of those match your brand, don’t be afraid to create your own theme.

2. Restaurant Info

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When a hungry diner Googles a restaurant, it is almost always to find more info, typically to get directions, an address or to check the hours and make sure it is open. It may seem obvious to include this information on your restaurant’s mobile app, but how you do it is also important to consider. For chain restaurants, this info is useful for eaters that want to find another location when they travel.

Aside from the address, store hours and other basic info, some restaurants turning to mobile apps have found success by including a brief history or ‘About’ section in their app. Because the diners downloading the app are already demonstrating a strong loyalty and interest in your restaurant, it stands to reason they might be curious about how the restaurant was started, who the head chef is, etc.

3. Restaurant Menu

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One of the primary functions of any restaurant app is to showcase the menu. Often times when people conduct an online search for a restaurant, they are looking for the menu. Adding it to your mobile app makes this search more convenient to those willing to download the application. It allows potential diners to decide on their meal before they reach the restaurant.

As a restaurant owner, you know that offering specials and occasionally or seasonally changing the menu is key to keeping eaters encouraged to return over and over again. However, notifying hungry eaters what’s on special is nearly impossible, unless they are standing in the restaurant. A mobile app makes it possible for any dining place to notify customers of new menu items, no matter the time or place. Through push notifications, your daily specials can land right on the home screen of someone’s phone. Not only does this keep your restaurant in the minds of eaters, it also persuades them to come in and try the new food options.

4. Mobile Ordering

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Aside from having a mobile accessible menu, another primary focus for delivery/pickup restaurants is taking these options into the mobile age. Hungry consumers are increasingly turning to their mobile device to make reservations and orders for delivery or pickup. Big delivery chains like Domino’s and Papa John’s handle nearly half of their orders through mobile ordering. People like the convenience of using a mobile device to order food, and prefer it over having to call.

For restaurants, online ordering comes with big benefits. If a customer places an order online, employees can focus on preparing the food, instead of answering the phone. The mobile ordering experience provides a favorable environment to upsell, showcase new menu items and gather customer information. Arguably, eaters are more likely to spend more when they have all of the menu options and pictures of the food in front of them.

5. Loyalty Program

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A lot of restaurants stop at an accessible menu and mobile ordering, but they miss out on one of the biggest perks of a mobile app — a loyalty program. Most restaurants and cafes have been unable to deliver a rewards program to rival the ones offered by bigger fish in the pond, like Dunkin Donuts or McDonald’s. Instead of sophisticated reward point systems, they have had to resort to a punch card or stamp loyalty programs that almost always get lost in a junk drawer, wallet corner or the bottom of an old purse. Mobile apps present an opportunity to level the playing field and give smaller restaurants a superior loyalty program.

If you don’t already have an existing rewards program because of lack of opportunity or other reasons, a mobile app can help. Mobile works well for loyalty programs, as it is an extra-convenient way to track accumulated points and see what new incentives are redeemable for their loyalty. These programs produce higher levels of return business, as they encourage diners to keep coming back to pursue rewards.

6. Coupons & Discounts

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Mobile-only coupons and discounts are a great way to incentivize downloads of your restaurant mobile app. These special deals are only available if you have the app, which may encourage diners to download the app, see what else it has to offer and end up keeping it, even after the coupon is used. Similarly, existing users of your mobile app will be influenced to return and use the new discount available. Routinely offering new discounts can stimulate steady business and revenue.

Coupons and discounts are excellent strategies that can reinvigorate dormant consumers into active customers once again. It can also draw new business in. Even if they have had a bad experience at your restaurant, a discount will persuade them to give the food a second chance as it saves money. Many app building platforms have a tool that allows you to build mobile-only coupons or integrate an already existing coupon/discount program.

Bringing It All Together

Most restaurants already have many of these tools (a menu, brand image, coupon/discount program, etc.), but not incorporated into one easy-accessible place — a mobile app. Luckily, many of these tools are easy to integrate into the mobile environment. A lot of third-party services popular amongst restaurants, like OpenTable, MailChimp, GrubHub and others, can conveniently be connected to your mobile app through plugins. Thus, even a restaurant owner with limited mobile development knowledge can using a DIY app builder and all its integrated tools to get the most out of this new mobile channel.

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Comments (7)

  • Peter Short Jan 25, 2017 at 20:01 PM

    Great article, but incomplete, due to the link to menu is blank:…”One of the primary functions of any restaurant app is to showcase the menu.” If a restaurant doesn’t already have the ALL IMPORTANT mobile friendly menu from “high end” website to link to, HOW do you format the desktop menu format for mobile app? Thanks!

  • Peter Short Jan 26, 2017 at 09:01 AM

    Thanks for link, Kimberly…YOUR articles are AWESOME! THANKS!

    • Kimberly de Silva Jan 26, 2017 at 09:01 AM

      You are welcome. Thank you for the great feedback!

      • Peter Short Jan 26, 2017 at 10:01 AM

        Link working now, K…THANKS!

  • Keion Millsaps Jan 30, 2017 at 11:01 AM

    I have one question.
    Does the Skipper app work?
    The Restaurants get ipads and tablets from other companies like grubhub and eat24. They prefer to see the orders pop up on a screen instead of having to add a printer.

  • Gary W Mar 29, 2018 at 18:03 PM

    Who won the ping pong game during the Creating Menu video?? Lol

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