What is a Restaurant App?

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In this article, we'll cover the various types of restaurant apps, what they're good for, what they're not good for, and what it takes to build one.

Developing your own customer-facing mobile app is no easy task. But is it the right move for your restaurant? 

First, some context: Apps can be very successful for chains with massive scale (like Starbucks or Panera). For your guests to add your (another!) app to their device means it must be the right fit for both your restaurant and your customers.

Here are some things to consider before building a restaurant app, including key elements required for making your app enticing for customers and profitable for your restaurant. 

What is a restaurant app?

A restaurant app is a mobile application dedicated to a specific restaurant concept or chain of restaurants. Most restaurant apps are centered around digital ordering, but they typically also include information on guest loyalty rewards, specials, and promotions. 

For many large chain restaurants, apps are a must-have and extremely successful. Starbucks revolutionized the concept of ordering ahead with their mobile app, for example, and has successfully convinced 63% of their customer base to use it. Smaller restaurant chains like Flour Bakery in Boston have also found success in launching a local restaurant app, using it as a platform for guests to accrue and use loyalty points. 

While it's rare for an app to make sense for a one-location small restaurant (apps can be expensive and technically challenging – and without widespread adoption, they might be more trouble than they're worth), it’s good to know the fundamentals of app development so you can make an informed decision.  

What are restaurant ordering apps? 

Restaurant ordering apps are platforms that combine many restaurants onto one system, and facilitate online ordering for pickup and delivery. The most popular of these restaurant ordering apps are Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Postmates. 

While these platforms are incredibly popular with consumers, they often come with high costs: up to 30% of every order is paid in fees to the third-party aggregators. These costs drastically eat into a restaurant's bottom line, and profit margins are already tight. Using these third-party apps also takes away the ability for restaurants to capture valuable customer data, control their branding, and entice guests to return for repeat visits. 

The Toast TakeOut app gives restaurants complete control over their online ordering. When your guests order through the Toast Takeout app, there are no commission fees, so your restaurant won’t be losing out on any hard-earned revenue. And, Toast TakeOut easily integrates with your existing Toast technology, meaning that important guest data is all under your control and ready to use for loyalty and marketing purposes. 

Should I create an app for my restaurant?

Restaurant mobile apps like the ones above are sufficient for most restaurants, especially those with one (or a few) locations. Apps like Toast TakeOut provide all of the value of an individual restaurant ordering app or restaurant loyalty app, including online ordering, guest loyalty, and promotions, without the high cost of developing your own app. And most consumers only ever have one restaurant delivery app on their phone at any given time. 

If you’re still looking to create your own app, there are a few things to keep in mind:  

  • Do you have the capital set aside to work with a professional app developer? 
  • Do you have plans to expand your restaurant to a large-scale operation with many locations? 
  • Do you have the resources to devote to promoting your app and increasing guest downloads? 

If the answer to all three questions is “yes!”, then there are a few steps to take to get started.

How to create an app for my restaurant

Survey potential users

Research your customer base to ask if the interest is there. Will they use the app? For what capabilities? 

Also look into how your customers are currently ordering: is it mostly in person? On your website? Through a third-party delivery app? This is also great information for seeing if there are ways to optimize your guest ordering experience without having to build an app from scratch. 

Find an experienced developer 

Find a developer who has experience working with restaurants. In order for this app to be successful, you’ll want to make sure that it has a streamlined interface, intuitive design, and is bug-free. This quality will only come with an experienced developer, so be discerning and thoughtful with this decision. 

Ensure the app is in line with your brand 

Your app is an extension of your restaurant brand. Users should expect to have the same type of experience when interacting with your mobile app as they do in-store. Restaurant apps strengthen your guest’s relationship to the restaurant, allowing them to have a touchpoint to the kitchen from the palm of their hand.

Sweetgreen has been commended for their thoughtful and strategically designed stores. The brand is built on locally sourced produce to foster healthier communities. The restaurant's design is light, colorful, and eco-friendly, and the app is a direct extension of that aesthetic.

Here’s a few more examples of restaurant app designs.

Integrate it with your existing setup 

Make sure the app will integrate seamlessly with your point of sale, your menu, and your loyalty and rewards program. 

A mobile app should enhance and integrate with in-store technology, working behind the scenes to build a delightful guest experience. The efficiency improvements provided by a mobile ordering app are completely voided if it’s not integrated into your kitchen ticketing or restaurant POS system.

When a customer orders through the Panera Bread app, for example, they can see their name in the queue of orders when they walk into the store (see photos here). The app is the sister software of Panera’s self-serve kiosks, both of which have defined the “Panera 2.0” rollout.

If you’re not happy with your existing in-store technology, consider investing in that before expanding to a restaurant app.

Track your ROI 

Track downloads of the app and how much your guests are using it. Make sure to continuously make changes and optimize the app in response to guest feedback, and ensure you’re getting the most out of your investment. 

Related Restaurant Technology Resources

Toast Online Ordering
Learn how a better online ordering system can help you save time and grow revenue.