Planning a Mobile App for Your Restaurant?

Smartphone technology is changing the way food service operators are doing business. Some restaurants have proprietary applications for the Apple iPhone and Google Android devices, and other restaurants are teaming up with third-party service providers.

Loaded with content, including specials and promotions, location information, and ordering and payment features, restaurant apps keep wowing us. I reached out to Nick Ostroff, co-founder of 99 Apps, to get an overview of what’s possible and where to get started.

What are the most important app functions for any restaurant?
99 Apps approaches the “feature set” differently for mobile website versus native applications. For mobile Web apps (websites), this is frequently a discovery tool. A customer will search for a local restaurant on a search engine, click on a website and need some quick facts about the restaurant. Menu, phone, location … We have created a streamlined restaurant mobile website experience that delivers this information immediately within one click. For native iPhone or Android apps, this is generally a customer-retention, loyalty experience. Customers will download an application generally after the first enjoyable visit to the restaurant so they can keep the brand always handy on their phone to retrieve menu information, special offers, videos and media and receive push text alerts from one of their favorite restaurants.
What are the nice-to-have functions of some of your clients’ apps?
Push messaging is our most popular function to add to iPhone and Android apps. This allows the restaurant to communicate with text alerts to all loyal fans who have downloaded the app. Push text messaging is one of the biggest advantages of native applications to the iPhone and Android platforms because mobile sites cannot deliver this level of notification to users. In short, this is a great way to communicate specials, events and menu changes in a short-and-sweet text message that can be delivered to clients’ smartphones without extra text-messaging rates or charges.
How long does it typically take to create an app?
Restaurateurs have plenty on their plate, and they are generally coming to us so we can get them branded and accessible on their clients’ phones with as little effort on their side as possible. For mobile Web apps, one to two weeks. For iPhone and Android apps — native apps on those markets — approximately one month. This would include the setup of the graphics, menu and content for an application as well as publishing to the platforms of a restaurant’s choice.
In general, how much should restaurants budget for a mobile app?
Mobile-application costs can vary greatly from developer to developer, depending on the system and the offering, platform and level of custom work. Our approach is to make mobile apps that can be custom branded with the look and feel of the client without extra costs. Mobile Web app, $99 setup; mobile Web app plus iPhone or Android, $299 setup; all three, $499 setup. On a monthly basis, we have created an optional app-control system for clients that can be used to change content, menus, offers, etc. This runs $15 to $60 monthly depending on the platforms.
What’s your favorite restaurant app?
We have helped more than 500 restaurants with different mobile tools, so it’s hard to choose favorites. A few of our recent clients that have started using our iPhone app system:
SmartPulse — our weekly reader poll in Restaurant SmartBrief — tracks feedback from restaurant owners and managers about trends and issues.
Last week’s poll question: Does your restaurant have a mobile application?
45.35% — No, my restaurant does not and is not planning a mobile app.
30.23% — No, but my restaurant is planning a mobile app.
24.42% — Yes, my restaurant has a mobile app.