Reaching customers in today’s mobile-connected world is challenging, especially for restaurants. At one time, diners would choose a restaurant based on curb appeal and word-of-mouth. But with review services and social media comprising such a large part of diners’ lives, restaurants are challenged to reach the public through the tools they use the most.
In fact the National Restaurant Association has released new research during its second annual Restaurant Innovation Summit that shows overall technology use in restaurants is increasing. More than a third of consumers say they are more likely to use technology-related options in restaurants now than two years ago. In addition, a significant number use their smartphones to interact with restaurants on a regular basis, such as ordering delivery, redeeming rewards and paying for meals.
Mobile apps have the power to give customers a more personalized dining experience while loyalty programs and digital coupons can bring happy patrons back. But what is the best way to reach out to customers and ensure they become repeat diners? Here are some major ways restaurants are using technology to reach customers.
According to Technomic, 65 percent of consumers in 2014 expect restaurants in the quick-service segment to offer free access to Wi-Fi in their restaurants. It is an expectation that operators cannot afford to ignore. “Most of our guests carry smart phones or tablets, and this upgrade makes their time with us easier and more enjoyable,” Alex Macedo, president, North America, Burger King, said in the statement. “We are committed to enhancing our digital platforms across the board and having Whopper Wi-Fi is just the beginning.”
Quick-service brands should also look at free Wi-Fi as way to bring back the crucial millennial demographic that has pulled back from restaurants since the recession.
Competitors such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s have both announced plans to make increased Wi-Fi access a central part of their remodeling plans, while Taco Bell said it will offer an entertainment network and free Wi-Fi access to all its locations by 2015. Dunkin’ Donuts introduced a new store design last year that featured free Wi-Fi, television and couches aimed at creating an enhanced atmosphere for their customers. The Canton, Mass.-based coffee chain currently offers free Internet access in most of its more than 7,500 restaurants in the U.S.
“We know our guests are constantly connected to their devices, whether it’s their smartphone, computer or tablet and we strive to accommodate them,” said Justin Drake, a spokesman for parent company Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc.
And while offering Internet access in restaurants isn’t new — chain’s like Starbucks, First Watch and Denny’s have been doing it for years — the number of people carrying internet-capable devices certainly has increased, thus creating a larger demand for access.
Research from Deloitte has found that while other factors may make a dining experience more enjoyable, a restaurant’s food is the top criteria. However, consumers are increasingly relying on mobile devices, especially while they’re traveling. While menu options and proximity are a factor, for travelers, Wi-Fi factors in, as well. In fact, while traveling, Wi-Fi availability is 61 percent more important than when consumers are eating close to home.
Over time, restaurants will learn to use Wi-Fi to communicate offers with customers while in the restaurant. Retailers have already learned to push information on sales and special discounts while a customer is on their Wi-Fi and restaurants and cafés can implement this technology in their locations, as well. If a customer has opted in to notifications, a message could be pushed to his screen when he reaches a certain distance from one of a restaurant’s locations.
The growing trend toward mobile has many restaurants launching their own apps. Once downloaded onto a customer’s smartphone, an app remains, giving those customers an easy way to browse menus, view operating hours, and get directions. If an app limits its functionality to information, however, it may find few customers download it. All of these details can be offered on a company’s website, requiring less of a commitment than a full download requires.
Despite the popularity of mobile, app downloads still haven’t taken off for restaurants. Deloitte’ survey found that less than one-fifth of respondents had downloaded at least one app onto a mobile device. Many restaurants have found it’s best to give customers a reason to download an app. For locations that offer delivery, an app could allow ordering directly from the app. Customers could also make payments or request reservations.
Loyalty programs are popular with restaurants, who find their customers enjoy the extra incentive to return. While loyalty programs have failed to gain a great deal of success, the study has found that customers who participate in loyalty and reward programs are more likely to display loyalty to a brand. When a customer can easily earn points for purchases and redeem those points for purchases, a loyalty program can be extremely successful.
A restaurant’s app can simplify the loyalty program process, allowing customers to see the status of their points at any time. Instead of carrying around a card on a keychain or in a wallet, the process can be shifted to a mobile device, with the customer flashing a phone at the register to get points. When customers have a reason to add the app to their devices, the restaurant benefits, with the customer potentially using it to show menus to friends or get up-to-date information on a restaurant’s hours.
With any public internet connection will come increased security concerns. This year alone, data breaches like at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Dairy Queen and Jimmy John’s made headlines. With consumers using mobile devices more than ever to access information, it’s important that restaurants find new ways to reach out and at the same time protect their customers.
For more information about Wi-Fi presence in restaurants, please check the iPass Wi-Fi Growth Map.