LBS Marketing Spotlight: Restaurants

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With today’s consumers always connected and always looking for convenience, it seems obvious that that restaurant owners would want to engage them on the mobile battlefront. New data from Nielsen found that 47 percent of all smartphone owners, used mobile apps Shopping/Commerce category in June. While these results are not specific to restaurants, they indicate that consumers want deals, and that they want to easily interact with businesses without having to jump through hoops.

Creating Loyalty
Restaurants that want to stay ahead of the curve need to utilize their mobile apps as a source for offering programs for loyal diners. According to the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry Forecast, 57% of adult consumers are more likely to choose restaurants that offer a loyalty rewards program. Meanwhile, 40% are using smartphones to look at menus and order take-out.

Whether you build your own app or choose to use of the vast array of mobile and location-based solutions in the marketplace, is a difficult question.  Whatever your decision, digital menus, restaurant locators and online ordering are now the bare minimum that consumers expect. Serious thought should be given to location-based deals, group discounts, mobile payments and loyalty program integration. However, a restaurant that wants to create true loyal customers needs to integrate all of your program elements to the app as well.  Make sure you allow diners to check their point status, receive rewards and be able to store them in one place.

One innovative way example of this is Kansas City-based Front Flip.  The company has essentially created a digital punchcard system that owner/operators can use to incent sales during slow times and reward repeat business for loyal customers.

According to CEO Scott Beckner “Users can download Front Flip, then scan Flip Codes at participating retailers to get a virtual scratch card that offers a chance at a prize. For businesses, Front Flip offers access to customer data and helps them keep and reward customers through targeted mobile outreach.” Companies like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Hooters, 54th Street Grill are already using it.

Track and Target Your Best Customers
A loyalty program that’s integrated in a mobile app can track based on frequency or spend, depending on what fits your restaurant best. You can tailor personalized offerings to their app based on what you know about them from their activity. Then you can fully understand your best customers and reward them for their patronage within one centralized system.

Extending loyalty to payments
It’s not only about rewards and specials to incent customers, but increasing about making it easy to transact too. In April the TGI Fridays chain released new apps for iPhone and Android that lets customers start a tab, keep track of their bill, and pay it right from their phone. Currently, 350 of the chain’s 600 locations nationwide are now accepting the new mobile payment method.

“This new app puts the Friday experience at guests’ fingertips – whether they’re looking for the closest Friday’s to celebrate and indulge or if they want to pay their bar tab quickly,” Ricky Richardson, chief operating officer at T.G.I. Friday’s, said in a statement.

The app’s payment functionality is powered by a platform called TabbedOut, which launched earlier this year at SWSW in Austin, Texas. The app automatically integrates with Friday’s point of sale software, allowing customers to pay their bill without the need for additional hardware.

These are just a couple of examples of how restaurants can start engaging customers using mobile and hyperlocal services, but it’s clear that mobile marketing is going to be key for restaurants in the future.

Asif R. Khan is a veteran tech start-up, business development and marketing entrepreneur currently serving the community as founder and president of the Location Based Marketing Association (The LBMA). Weekly podcaster at This Week In Location Based Marketing every Monday. Can be found at @AsifRKhan @TheLBMA on Twitter.