To App or Not to App

According to Noah Glass, chief executive officer,, a remote ordering and interactive marketing firm for restaurants, “2010 could be the magic year for restaurant mobile apps.”He cites a critical mass: 255 million walking around with mobile phones, powerful networks, and devices with rich features – like GPS, which can pinpoint a customer’s location and provide valuable location-based content. “Location awareness has been a game changer – a tool to find your restaurant, or your nearest location, should be the core feature of any mobile app.”

But are mobile apps for every restaurant? “Mobile apps probably provide the most benefit for multiunit companies,” says Noah. “And anyone who does TV or newspaper advertising, etc., is probably overspending to reach their target audience and is big enough to have their own custom app.” Any company, including independents, that wants to promote takeout business is also a candidate. GoMobo’s custom apps (about $5,000 to develop) and services allow customers to order and pay ahead from their mobile phone. ”We see mobile ordering as the final stage in the evolution of self-service ordering, which started with kiosks and then moved online,” explains Noah. “Now the device already in consumers’ pockets has become the point of sale – and when they arrive at the restaurant, the food is ready.”

There are developers specializing in mobile apps for smaller companies, such as, who create iPhone apps branded with a restaurants name/ logo and offering menu, location, and contact information. “We look at a mobile app as a marketing and relationship tool. Having your own iPhone app gives a restaurant the potential for its icon to be on customers’ home screens and among the favorites they see first,” says Rob Howard, communications strategist. It also has a tangible benefit. “Links to your restaurant from the App Store increase your Google Page Rank, giving more prominence in a Google search.” Their “infoApp” solution (at an introductory price of $1,200 for the first year and $600 annually thereafter) also integrates with Facebook and Twitter to deliver status updates/tweets to mobile phones as text messages with alerts.

In terms of platforms, Noah says that the power of the iPhone and App Store (at least 225,000 applications with over five billion total downloads to date), coupled with the success of restaurants, such as Pizza Hut, Chipotle, and Dunkin’ Donuts, often leads restaurateurs to want to launch an iPhone app. But, he cautions, Apple isn’t the only game in town. “Google Android has really come on strong. I’d think about Android as well as iPhone – they are where you see the largest consumer appetite for apps.”