Mobile technology has drastically changed the way many businesses operate. The restaurant world is an area in which mobile apps have had a large influence, and one of the highest growth rates compared to other fields.

The market share of restaurant-related mobile applications in recent years has grown significantly, raising the demand on 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 brand online.

In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the current market space, identifying what main features a successful restaurant mobile app should have. We’ll also discuss the benefits for restaurant business owners and give a rough estimate of how much time and 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. Besides the extensive marketing potential that an app offers, here are a few compelling stats from the restaurant industry that show the value of being mobile-ready:

  • 83% of adults use their electronic devices (such as tablets and smartphones) to search for restaurant locations, directions, and hours of operation. 75% look up menus, 55% read reviews, 51% order takeout or delivery directly from the restaurant website, and 50% use rewards or special deals. (Source)

  • 3 out of 4 consumers say they would go to a restaurant during off-peak times if they would receive a discount.

  • 79% of diners agree that restaurant technology makes their guests’ experience better. (Source)

  • 36% of guests say the ability to reserve a table online is an essential feature of a restaurant, followed by free wifi (23%), and online or mobile ordering capabilities (19%). (Source)

  • Inventory management (20%), online ordering (13%), and PCI compliance (9%) are the top 3 features restaurateurs look for in a POS upgrade. (Source)

  • Four in five restaurant operators agree that restaurant technology helps them increase sales, makes their restaurant more efficient, and gives them a competitive edge. (Source)

  • 26% of consumers say they would prefer a restaurant with a tableside ordering and payment system. (Source)
  • Restaurant businesses using self-order kiosks generate average check sizes 5-10% higher than if they offered counter service. (Source)

It’s evident in many areas that more and more consumers prefer online mobile payment options these days. Andrew Feinberg, a principal analyst at Deloitte, says that:

"Mobile order and pay is being adapted full-scale across the restaurant and foodservice industry."

As a real-life example, roughly 30% of all Starbucks payment transactions are done through their mobile app. Approximately 17 million people are currently signed up for the Starbucks mobile app. While app development may be expensive, BI Intelligence has identified that Starbucks’ mobile app strategy definitely pays for itself, based on data from their recently published report.

Taking into account consumer behaviour and the ever-growing adaptation of mobile, it’s clear that restaurants should embrace the potential that mobile apps present for their business. Restaurant owners that adapt to mobile are sure to have an advantage over those that don’t. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what benefits and features a mobile app can have for your restaurant, let’s take a look at some of the more successful restaurant-related apps on the market in 2017 to see what is currently working for consumers and the industry.

Successful foodservice mobile apps

Some of the biggest brands in the foodservice industry already make use of mobile technology to boost their business. These brands have apps that top download lists and are popular with thousands upon thousands of consumers. Both Subway and Starbucks are one of the best restaurant app examples. These brands have used mobile apps to enhance customer experience. Their apps are proving to deliver increased profits for the companies.

Restaurant mobile app development
source: public domain

Tacobell offers another perfect example of a popular restaurant app. Using a modern and interesting design, simple navigation, and mesmerizing pictures of food, Tacobell is the national leader of Mexican-inspired Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) brands in the US. They serve food for every meal, from dawn to sunset.

Restaurant mobile app development
source: public domain

Open Table is a great example of a restaurant app that is available to the industry as a whole. It is a widely-used free service for locating and booking available tables in restaurants and other eateries, at anytime and from anywhere. Being the world leader in online booking, OpenTable helps users find new places, scroll through menus, pictures, and reviews, and earn rewards.

Restaurant mobile app development
source: public domain

Zomato, previously known as Urbanspoon, is another great restaurant app for locating food in new, unknown cities. Users can see a full list of restaurants, with filters available for various cuisines and price ranges. If you’re feeling adventurous, simply shake your iPhone to pick a restaurant at random. Right after you’ve finished your meal, Zomato will ask you to rate the restaurant so that you can help other tourists enjoy delicious food, cozy interiors, and great service.

Restaurant mobile app development

Of course, these are global brands that already have an audience and can effectively make use of an app right away. But what if your restaurant and brand is just starting out? Can mobile technology still apply to your business?

Restaurant mobile app development: features and benefits

Restaurant app development allows making use of mobile technology in a way, which can help restaurant owners manage their business in numerous ways. Data gathered through the use of apps can provide an abundance of valuable information that can help businesses become more efficient, profitable, and overall successful. This information can help owners plan meals throughout the day (during peak and off-peak hours), offer promotional products and special offers when appropriate, keep up-to-date records of the necessary store provisions, and plan product supply according to customer demand.

Below, you’ll find a list of features to consider adding to your restaurant app as well as the corresponding benefits for the customer and restaurant. Let’s walk through them using the example of Can Tho, our recent restaurant app project, and other top apps including Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Allset.

Menu display and description

A list of dishes available at the restaurant, accompanied by enticing pictures and prices is the basis for any restaurant app.

Restaurant mobile app development

Benefit to the customer: Showing customers what your restaurant has to offer and giving them a convenient mobile way to engage with your business.

Benefit to restaurant business: A simple app can help you set general client expectations while increasing your brand’s exposure.

Online ordering/pre-ordering capabilities

Allow users to place their order online (for either eating in, pick-up, or delivery, depending on the services your restaurant offers). This is a great way to simplify the order process, reduce the waiting lines, and make the service more attractive.

Restaurant app development

Benefit to customer: “Add to order” buttons next to menu dishes makes ordering easy, quick, and convenient for the customer. Order history can provide customers with easy ways to keep track of their favourite meals and can make re-ordering faster.

Benefit to restaurant: Online ordering provides your restaurant with valuable information regarding customer preferences, order turnaround, and much more. Using the data gathered through online orders and order history, you can identify common meal preferences, allowing you to refine your menu options.

You’re also able to distinguish between “rush hours” and “off-peak times” for customer inflow, allowing you to better distribute restaurant staff and other resources. As well, you’re able to show special offers and promotions to your customers as they are placing an order, boosting sales.

According to GrubHub, order placement by phone takes around 2 minutes per order. Ordering online through a smartphone cuts this process down to only 45 seconds, making ordering much faster for the customer and facilitating a more convenient and efficient interaction between your clients and the restaurant.

Bonus feature: Order tracking. Even though this feature isn’t mandatory, many users like to be able to check their order status and see order progress, especially if they are ordering for pick-up or delivery.

Payment processing

In-app purchases account for 40% of all payments. Ideally, your app would connect to the user’s preferred method of payment (online banking, PayPal, Apple Pay/Android Pay, etc.) for even faster, more convenient payment processing.

Restaurant app development

Benefit to customer: Allows customers to pay for their order directly via the app in whatever way they prefer.

Benefit to restaurant: Processing payments directly through the app will free up employees to return to more critical tasks, increasing the amount of orders they can fulfill and boosting the restaurant’s productivity.

Menu customization

Some customers may have food allergies to particular ingredients or have special tastes 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 will appreciate it.

Restaurant app development

Benefit to customer: Customers can customize dishes according to their preferences.

Benefit to restaurant: You can reach a wider audience and improve the customer experience.

Online table reservations

Your restaurant visitors will definitely appreciate that they can book a table ahead and have it available at your restaurant at a suitable date and time. This feature will reduce customer frustration from long wait times for tables and give customers the benefit of planning the evening.

Reserving a table at a restaurant online
Source: by Natalie Bokhonko

Benefit to customer: Customers can reserve and/or update their booking without having to call in.

Benefit to restaurant: Your staff has a real-time estimate of how many guests they’ll have, allowing them to distribute staff, assess workload, and complete meal prep accordingly. Combined with a preorder feature, you’ll be able to stock up on ingredients and take care of provisional prep, increasing your overall serving speed and the amount of people that can be served. You’ll also have insight into rush hours and off-peak hours, allowing you to send out special promotions to fill the restaurant in otherwise quieter periods.

Geolocation capabilities

With built-in GPS, users will be able to check their order status and see order progress, especially when they’re ordering for pick-up or delivery. Plus, if you’re an owner of a chain of restaurants serving customers around different cities and countries, this feature will help customers find your restaurants nearby.

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

Benefit to customer: Customers can easily find your restaurant, but can also potentially select a table within the restaurant itself, depending on their preferences.

Benefit to restaurant: Customers can see how close to your restaurant they are and can also fill tables based on their preferences, allowing you to distribute your staff and resources accordingly.

Push notifications

Push notifications are a great way to communicate with your customers. Let your customers find out about exclusive offers and discounts, special promos, new menu items, and upcoming events without the need 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 on when they’re walking by and encourage them to visit it using iBeacon technology. This exactly what Starbucks does:

Restaurant app development. Push notification

Keep in mind that push notifications can either make or break your app. Use them carefully. According to Noah Weiss, head of Slack’s SLI, a great push notification is three things: timely, personal and actionable.

Benefit to customer: Customers will be alerted when the restaurant has a special offer or event going on. Ideally, customers can opt out of push notifications or select which notifications they want to receive so that they don’t get annoyed by constant app alerts.

Benefit to restaurant: The ability to send customers notifications about special promotions, offers, or events can increase customer loyalty and can also help fill the restaurant in off-peak hours or for special events.

Loyalty programs

To increase the visit frequency 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, mobile ordering ahead of time, mobile payment, and finishing tasks and challenges. To illustrate the latter point, have a look at the Menu Challenge screen of the Starbucks app:

Restaurant app development

There are two possible scenarios for giving rewards:

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 favorites, free or half-price drinks and food, and early access to new menu items. To make rewards giving more fun and encourage users to come back again 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 dishes. There’s no better way to get true reviews than ask your customers.

Restaurant app development

Benefit to customer: Customers can keep track of their favourite meal or dish.

Benefit to restaurant: Instant feedback from customers on dishes, decor, atmosphere, staff, etc. can help you improve your service by identifying and eliminating weak spots.

Bonus feature: Social media integrations will help customers broadcast their reviews to their social media networks, boosting your brand’s exposure and helping you attract new clients. Social media interactions can provide your business with a valuable channel to communicate with existing and new customers.

Having just a few of these features in an app that you’ve either built yourself or that you are using from an external third party can really benefit your restaurant business. Depending on the size of your business and the resources that you have to dedicate to mobile app adoption or development, you can decide which features are truly critical and which are optional.

It’s important to keep in mind that, while app design is not a feature, it is an essential aspect of any mobile application you want to implement within your business. Users download apps to make their lives easier and make menial tasks quicker, more fun, and more convenient for them. They don’t want to waste their time trying to figure out complex navigation or design. When adding an app to your restaurant, always think about the user’s perspective and make sure that whatever you decide to use is simple, quick, and straight-forward so that any user can easily begin using it right away. Make your design attractive, but ensure that the features the app has remain true to its purpose - increasing efficiency for both customers and restaurant staff, while also providing a great marketing tool for your business.

Restaurant apps: Building your own versus adopting what’s already out there

Many restaurant mobile app developers may suggest you starting your business with an already existing app. And while having an app that’s dedicated to your restaurant business can be very beneficial, if your business is only at its start and your resources are limited, it’s important to understand that you shouldn’t hurry with building your own app. There are lots of apps already on the market that can help you achieve some of your goals already. Consider adding OpenTable or another similar app to your restaurant to help customers fill your tables. Register your restaurant on apps like Zomato and others to increase your brand’s exposure and help potential customers discover you.

Designing and developing a dedicated app will take time and resources (financial and otherwise) and will also require time and resources to ensure widespread adoption of your app by consumers. A mobile app should be thought of as a bonus tool once your business is already established and you have the time necessary to manage its development.

If you do have the resources necessary or you’re ready to take the next step in growing your business, creating a unique mobile app for your restaurant is a great way to boost its success even further. But how much would it really cost? That answer really depends on the types of features you’d want included.

The costs of developing a mobile app for your restaurant

The cost of any application depends on many components, such as the complexity of its features, design, functionality, etc. The time necessary for development depends on the number of developers involved in each part of the process. A simpler app will take less time to develop while a bigger development team will be able to accomplish more complex functionality. It really depends on your particular goals and priorities. Based on our years of experience as software developers for various clients around the world, here are two examples of what is reasonable to expect when developing an app for your restaurant.

Example 1: Building a somewhat simple app that includes:

  • menu presentation,
  • geolocation,
  • push notifications about news and promotions,
  • the ability to leave comments and reviews, and
  • the ability to share customer choices in social networks.

Creating this type of app would require a small team that includes a designer, a Quality Assurance engineer, and 2 developers. With all these basic features, development time would take 2-3 months of work.

Example 2: Building a more complex app that includes everything in the first example, as well as:

  • an integrated payment system,
  • online booking/table reservation capabilities,
  • the ability to pre-order meals,
  • tracking online orders,
  • integration of social media,
  • beacons,
  • (...and other features).

This more complex app would require a larger team of developers (at least 5), designers, a project manager, at least two QA engineers, and around a year of development time.

Besides our comprehensive app development services, SteelKiwi also offers the option of developing a minimum viable product (MVP) version of an app. This allows the final product to be released to market quickly, with just the bare minimum set of required functions. Our development team then works on adding new features step by step, releasing more complex functionality in order of priority, based on analysing user behaviour and feedback.

Restaurant app development costs at Steelkiwi

To provide a real picture of how much it’ll take you to build a custom restaurant app, we’ll use our recent projects ― Can Tho and Restaurant app.

Can Tho is an app for the self-order kiosks for the Brusselian restaurant ― Can Tho. Using this app, restaurant visitors can order, customize dishes, and make contactless, card, and cash payments. The application is available in three languages ― English, Dutch, and French ― so Can Tho can reach their customers in the language they speak. To enable admins to confirm orders, resolve returns, set prices and VAT for takeaway and eat-in, and add new menu items as well as delete ingredients and dishes, we implemented the admin dashboard.

If you’re interested in more information, read How to Build a Fast-Food Restaurant Self-Service Ordering Kiosk and Payment System.

Restaurant app development

The app took us 3586 hours in total:

  • Wireframes: 291 hours
  • Design: 713 hours
  • Backend development: 1025 hours
  • Android development: 1190 hours
  • Testing: 367 hours

Another example of a platform that we recently is Restaurant app. For this project, we developed two apps: an iOS app for customers and a Flutter app (for 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 serves) and restaurant visitors to check out the restaurant menu, make an order, and pay for it.

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

Want to develop your own restaurant app?

Having an adaptive website for your restaurant is useful, but doesn’t provide as many opportunities for direct promotion and attraction of new customers as a mobile app for your restaurant would. Mobile applications are increasingly essential as more and more consumers switch to mobile devices every day, leaving behind their desktop and laptop browsers.

A mobile app can help your business take the next step in digital marketing. Developing or implementing the use of mobile apps in your business will not only help you attract new customers, but would also ensure you keep your old ones happy, satisfied, and coming back to your restaurant for more. Apps can also help you optimize your business’ performance, pointing out where your strengths and weaknesses lie. The data gathered from the use of mobile apps could be invaluable to your restaurant, ensuring your success.

If you would like to hire a restaurant app development company or have any unanswered questions, feel free to message us. We’ll be happy to help you get to new highs!