Mobile technology has drastically changed the way many businesses operate. In the restaurant industry, mobile apps have had a large influence and one of the highest adoption rates by businesses.

The market share of restaurant apps has grown significantly in recent years, raising the demand for restaurant mobile app development. Making use of mobile app technology can help restaurant owners solidify their presence in the market while simultaneously helping them promote their brands online.

In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the current market for restaurant mobile applications and identify the main features restaurant apps should have to be successful. We’ll also discuss the benefits of apps for restaurant business owners and give a rough estimate of how much time and how many resources it would take to create a mobile app for a restaurant.

Benefits of restaurant app development

There are many reasons to invest in building a mobile app for your restaurant. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we’ll take a look at a few compelling stats from the restaurant industry that show the value of being mobile-ready:

Statistics showing why restaurants can benefit from restaurant app development

Taking into account consumer behavior and the ever-growing adoption of mobile devices, it’s clear that restaurants should embrace the potential that mobile apps represent for their businesses. Restaurant owners that adapt to mobile are sure to have an advantage over those that don’t.

Let’s take a moment to review what benefits a mobile app can offer your restaurant.

 Benefits of restaurant app development

Boost your restaurant brand and customer engagement

Brand awareness is an essential component of any marketing strategy. Of course, excellent service, awesome food, and a gorgeous interior can create word-of-mouth buzz about a restaurant, but that isn’t enough for getting the most out of your existing customer base and reaching new customers.

However, an app has great potential to increase your restaurant’s visibility, market your restaurant to a large number of mobile users, interest new visitors as well as returning guests and encourage them to eat at your restaurant regularly, help you improve your processes, and make your restaurant more accessible.

Better payment processing

The major benefit mobile payments offer is convenience to both customers and restaurants. Customers can pay for their orders directly via the app in whatever way they prefer. As for restaurants, processing payments directly through the restaurant mobile app frees up employees for more critical tasks, increasing the number of orders they can fulfill and boosting the restaurant’s productivity.

Increase your bookings

With online bookings, customers can reserve tables without calling while your staff can have a real-time estimate of how many guests they’ll have. This allows you to distribute staff, assess your workload, and complete meal prep accordingly. You’ll also have insight into rush hours and off-peak hours, allowing you to send out promotions to fill your restaurant in otherwise quieter periods.

Build loyalty

Customer loyalty is key to running a successful restaurant. But high-quality food and excellent customer service aren’t usually enough to earn, increase, and retain customer loyalty. Customers want to be rewarded for their loyalty. Enable your guests to earn points for specific actions and then track and redeem these points for free menu items, for example. Or you can reward your loyal customers, brand ambassadors, and frequent guests with special deals and complimentary dishes.

An effective way to get customer feedback

Instant feedback from customers on your food, decor, atmosphere, staff, and other things can help you improve your service by identifying and eliminating weak spots. What’s important is that you gather feedback and make the necessary improvements regularly so customers see that you care and so you can keep up with your competitors.

Key features to include in your restaurant app

Below, you’ll find a list of features to consider adding to your restaurant app. To illustrate each feature in action, we’ll consider the best restaurant app examples from Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Can Tho, one of our recent restaurant app projects.


A list of food and drinks accompanied by enticing pictures and prices is the basis for any restaurant app. You can present your menu in a variety of ways, but the rule is to keep it simple. Arrange your menu items by categories (and subcategories) so users can easily find the dish they’re looking for. Guests should also be able to easily add items to their order.

Restaurant mobile app development

Online ordering and pre-ordering

According to GrubHub, placing an order by phone takes around two minutes. Ordering online through a smartphone cuts this time down to only 45 seconds, making ordering much faster for the customer and facilitating a more convenient and efficient interaction between your visitors and your restaurant.

Online ordering is a great way to simplify the order process, reduce wait times, and make your service more attractive. Depending on the services your restaurant offers, you can enable users to place orders for eating in, pick-up, or delivery.

 Confirming an order with the Can Tho app

Menu customization

Some customers may have food allergies or have special preferences. To cover the needs of a larger audience, provide restaurant visitors with an opportunity to add or exclude ingredients or choose the main ingredients themselves. They’ll appreciate it.

Drink customization in the Starbucks app

Payment processing

Ideally, your app should connect to the user’s preferred method of payment (online banking, PayPal, Apple Pay/Android Pay, etc.) for even faster, more convenient payment processing.

Can Tho’s payment process: The checkout screen

Table booking

Your guests will definitely appreciate being able to book a table ahead and have it available when they arrive. This feature will reduce frustration due to long wait times for tables and give customers the benefit of planning their evening.

The Allset app: Reserving a table at a restaurant online
Source: by Natalie Bokhonko

Geolocation capabilities

If you have a restaurant chain serving customers in different cities and countries, geolocation features can help customers find your restaurants.

Geolocation capabilities of the McDonald’s app: Finding nearby McDonald’s

Push notifications

Push notifications are a great way to communicate with your customers. Let them find out about exclusive offers and discounts, special promos, new menu items, and upcoming events without needing to open the application. To attract restaurant customers, you can use push notifications to offer free stuff. Will anyone say no to free tea or coffee?

One more great thing you can do using push notifications is alert your customers when they’re walking by your restaurant and encourage them to visit it using iBeacon technology. This is exactly what Starbucks does:

develop a restaurant app

Keep in mind that push notifications can make or break your app. Use them carefully. According to Noah Weiss, the head of Slack’s Search, Learning and Intelligence team, a great push notification is timely, personal, and actionable.

Loyalty programs

To increase the frequency of visits and develop long-term customer relationships, you can use loyalty programs. You can reward users for money spent at your restaurant (for example, 1 point for $1 spent), their birthdays, ordering ahead in the app, making mobile payments, and finishing tasks and challenges. Have a look at the Menu Challenge screen of the Starbucks app:

Restaurant app development

There are two common ways of structuring a rewards program:

Points ― customers collect a certain amount of points and redeem them on rewards;

Instant rewards ― customers receive a reward every time they finish a specific action.

As a reward, consider giving your loyal customers bonuses and special offers for their favorite items, free or half-price drinks and food, and early access to new menu items. To make rewards more fun and encourage guests to come back to your restaurant, consider including gamification elements.

Restaurant app development

Benefit to customer: Loyal customers, brand ambassadors, and frequent visitors to your restaurant will be rewarded with special deals, complimentary dishes, or other benefits.

Benefit to restaurant: Developing this feature to its full extent can allow you to identify your most loyal customers. By offering them special deals or complimentary dishes, you can earn customers for life that will also recommend your restaurant to their friends and family.

Ratings and Reviews

Allow your restaurant visitors to share their experiences, feedback, and thoughts on your restaurant, service, and food. There’s no better way to get true reviews than to ask your customers.

Restaurant app development

Costs of developing a mobile app for your restaurant

Restaurant app development costs depend on many factors, such as the complexity of the app’s features, design, functionality, etc. The time necessary for development depends on the number of developers involved in each part of the process.

Based on our years of experience as software developers for various clients around the world, here’s what is reasonable to expect when developing an app for your restaurant.

Restaurant app development costs

Restaurant app development costs at Steelkiwi

To provide a fuller picture of how much it will take to build a custom restaurant app, we’ll consider two of our recent projects.

Can Tho, a self-service kiosk

Can Tho is an app for self-order kiosks at the Can Tho restaurant in Brussels. Using this app, Can Tho guests can order, customize dishes, and make contactless card payments or pay by cash. The application is available in three languages: English, Dutch, and French.

To enable admins to confirm orders, resolve returns, set prices and VAT for takeaway and eat-in, add new menu items, and delete ingredients and dishes, we implemented an admin dashboard.

If you’re interested in more information on this topic, read about how to build a fast-food restaurant self-service ordering kiosk and payment system.

The welcome screen of the Can Tho app for self-order kiosks

The Can Tho app took us 3,586 hours in total:

  • Wireframes: 291 hours
  • Design: 713 hours
  • Backend development: 1,025 hours
  • Android development: 1,190 hours
  • Testing: 367 hours

Waiter Genius app – apps for waiters and customers

Another platform we recently developed is Waiter Genius. For this project, we developed two apps: an iOS app for customers and a Flutter app (iOS and Android) for waiters. The idea behind these apps was to allow waiters to see orders and check their statuses (pending, in progress, and served) and to let restaurant visitors check out the menu, place an order, and pay for it.

Screens of the Waiter Genius app

We spent 586 hours building this project:

  • Wireframes, requirements, and design: 97 hours
  • Backend development: 152 hours
  • Flutter development (waiters app): 69 hours
  • iOS development (customers app): 177 hours
  • Testing: 91 hours

Build your own restaurant app vs adopt what’s already out there

Having an app that’s dedicated to your restaurant can be very beneficial. However, if you have a small restaurant with one location that’s only just started and your resources are limited, it might not be viable to create your own restaurant app. Therefore, some restaurants decide to rely on third-party apps for restaurants.

According to Toast, technologies that were most important to guests in 2020 include drive-through availability, pay-at-the-table, mobile and contactless payments, and online ordering. Another statistics by Toast show that restaurants use on average three technology vendors for PoS, inventory, credit card processing, accounting, reporting and analytics, payroll, labor management, and online ordering/reservations.

So when is it better to rely on third-party apps than develop a custom app?

  • You’re just starting your restaurant
  • You have a limited budget
  • You’re short on time and need a quick solution

To sum up: Designing and developing a dedicated app will take time and resources (financial and otherwise). You’ll also need time and resources to ensure that guests use your app. If you’ve just started your restaurant and have limited resources, take time to grow your business. Consider using OpenTable or another similar app to help customers fill your tables. Register your restaurant on apps like Zomato to increase your brand’s exposure and help potential customers discover you. Once your restaurant is well established and you have the resources necessary, you can develop your own unique app to boost the success of your restaurant business even further.

Request a rough estimate for your restaurant app project from Steelkiwi

Who knows best how much your restaurant mobile app development will cost? Those who you’re going to develop your solution with, of course. We suggest you request a rough estimate for your project from the restaurant app development company you’re looking to hire.

If you want to know how much it will cost you to make a restaurant app with Steelkiwi, feel free to message our sales representatives. We’ll be happy to help you get to new highs!