March 06, 2024

7 Ways to Boost Sales with Your Mobile App

Make it a snap to use your app and you’ll encourage repeat business.
Customer using an app on a smartphone at restaurant
Digital orders comprised 16% of all foodservice orders in 2023—more than triple the pre-pandemic share, when they accounted for only 5% of orders, according to National Restaurant Association analysis of Circana/CREST data. To gain a competitive edge in this digital market, many restaurant operators are launching or upgrading their own app.

While third-party delivery apps offer wide exposure and can help you reach potential new customers, their high commissions eat away at profits. It often pays to invest in your own app and to woo customers over to it. You don’t necessarily need to hire a software company to build your app from scratch. “White label” apps are easily customized with a restaurant’s branding, logo and images, making them an affordable option for small chains and independent restaurants.

In-app ordering also frees up staff from taking as many orders on premises or over the phone. For time-pressed customers, one selling point is that they can skip the line and get their food quicker. Check out these seven ways to encourage guests to install your app and begin ordering with a few simple taps.

1. Promote special in-app deals. Today’s customers crave value. In fact, 90% of restaurant operators say their customers are more value conscious than they used to be, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2024 State of the Restaurant Industry report. Tempt guests to download your app with a welcome gift—be it a free sandwich or $10 off their next order.

Wendy’s entices “folks to get into the app with some compelling values,” noted Todd Penegor, then-CEO at the company’s 2023 Q3 earnings call. During the week of National Cheeseburger Day, the quickservice giant offered cheeseburgers for one cent—but only on its app. “We want to get folks into the app because what we do see is more purchase frequency and higher checks over time for those consumers,” Penegor said. 

2. Make re-ordering easy. Keep customers coming back to your restaurant by making it as simple as possible to re-order their favorites. Highlight a re-order button that pulls up their order exactly the way they like it. No need to take the time to nix the mustard and add extra pickles! Panera Bread takes this idea one step further with the new Crunch Time feature on its app, which allows loyalty members to choose favorite items and schedule a day and time they might expect to order it. The app reminds them at the pre-set time, and lets them order with a simple swipe.

3. Showcase exclusive menu items. Potbelly offers an Underground Menu on its app, giving guests access to sandwiches and salads that they won’t find on the menu board at its 425 sandwich shops or on third-party sites. Another technique: Some operators launch new menu items initially only on their app to reward loyal app-users and create a buzz about new offerings. It’s all a part of making guests feel like insiders who are vested in your restaurant.

4. Offer pay-by-mobile. In-app payments aren’t just for carry-out and delivery orders. Some fullservice operators offer the capability to pay-at-the table through their app. Customers enjoy the freedom to pay when they want. Restaurants turn tables quicker, and staffers gain time to concentrate on customer service. About half of millennials (53%) and Gen Z adults (50%) report that they would opt for a tableservice restaurant that incorporates technology into experience—such as paying the bill using an app on their smart phone or a tablet at the table—versus the same restaurant offering only traditional service, according to the 2024 State of the Restaurant Industry report. 

5. Integrate your loyalty program. An app can offer the perfect platform for guests to engage in a loyalty program; after all, most consumers have their phones handy. In fact, 60% of current loyalty program members prefer to access the program through a smartphone app versus a physical card, and another 22% say they don’t have a preference, according to the report. With an app, guests can see how close they are to earning their next reward. Push notifications that alert members to discounts—including data-driven, AI-powered personalized deals—can encourage return visits. According to the report, 78% of loyalty members say they’re more likely to visit a restaurant where they can earn points, even if it isn’t as convenient as other places.

6. Leverage geofencing. Chick-fil-A is among the restaurants using geofencing technology to ensure that mobile app orders are ready for pickup at the perfect time. When a mobile customer is close to the Chick-fil-A where their order is placed, the app will notify the unit, so workers can begin preparing the food and have it ready around the customer’s arrival time. “By timing a customer’s arrival with their order, we can ensure they’re getting a meal that is both fresh and served quickly,” said Morgan Anderer, senior project lead on Chick-fil-A’s Customer Digital Experience team, when the feature was announced in May 2023. Customers must enable location services on their mobile device for this feature to work.

7. Award incentives to download app updates. The good news about app technology is that it’s constantly evolving, allowing for new features every few years. The bad news is that when your restaurant upgrades its app, you’ll need to convince customers to migrate over. Time to break out the incentives again! For example, when California Pizza Kitchen updated its app this past October, it gifted members with weekly rewards, including free menu items, bonus points and discounts for future purchases. With some time and encouragement, you’ll attract guests to your new and improved app. 

The National Restaurant Association’s 2024 State of the Restaurant Industry report is considered the authoritative source for restaurant industry sales projections and business trends. The report is free to members (a $349 value). Get the report today!
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