There’s a new trend on the menu: consumers are spending more on dining out than they are on groceries. And we’re not talking penny change either. In just one year, restaurant sales have overtaken grocery store sales by $1.5 billion.

What Consumers Crave

The same consumers who are directing their spending to dining out are also directing their attention to their mobile devices. In fact, consumers use their mobile devices to search restaurants more than any other industry and sixty-five percent of location-based social media traffic comes from restaurants. That is, before a customer arrives at a restaurant’s physical location, they’re already searching for information on their mobile devices. Once they arrive, they’re continuing to engage through their mobile device (i.e. checking-in, sharing photos, writing reviews, etc.).

Consumer behavior points to the underlying fact that, when it comes to dining, customers no longer just want great food—they also want on-the-go convenience and great digital brand experiences tailored to their individual needs.

New on the Menu: Mobile

This presents a unique opportunity for casual dining restaurants to leverage technology to empower customers to tailor their dining experience based on their own schedules. Restaurants offering mobile convenience and personalized digital experiences are already reaping the rewards.

Casual dining restaurants such as Chili’s, Applebee’s, Olive Garden, and Red Robin have installed, or are in the process of installing, tabletop mini-kiosks that allow guests to order food, pay from their tables, and play interactive games. Restaurant profits increase when guests order coffee and dessert, then quickly pay and leave—and this is exactly what these kiosks enable. So, do these kiosks work? During initial testing, Chili’s found that around 50 percent of guests opted to pay through the kiosk, especially during busy hours. While tabletop kiosks enhance the overall brick-and-mortar experience and support sales efforts, they do not offer order ahead features.

BJ’s Restaurant is taking a slightly more mobile approach. Last year, BJ’s launched a mobile app to encourage guests to order ahead and dine in. The app allows guests to control their dining experience from their own smartphone or tablet. Guests who use the app save time by ordering ahead, being placed on a preferred waitlist for a table, and paying from their mobile device when they’re ready to leave. Within just weeks of launching, BJ’s mobile app saw 50,000 downloads, and more than 30 percent of all customers used the order ahead, mobile payment, or waitlist features. Better yet, these initial results found customers utilizing the mobile payment feature left higher tips, on average.

Similarly, The Cheesecake Factory is piloting their CakePay app that allows customers to split and pay the bill via their own mobile device. The app caters to the on-the-go customer by eliminating the need to wait for a server to bring the check, while also alleviating time-strapped servers. During the piloting phase, The Cheesecake Factory is incentivizing customers to test the app by offering a free slice of cheesecake upon download and check-in.

Catering to the Mobile Consumer

Tech-savvy restaurants are setting a new industry standard for the way casual dining restaurants use technology to improve the overall dining experience. Today’s mobile-centric customers value convenience—brands who provide it win their loyalty. On the other hand, those who don’t invest in mobile convenience risk losing customers to those who do.

Mobile technology benefits the casual dining experience in a number of ways, including but not limited to:

  • Increasing customer retention by decreasing and even eliminating wait times.
  • Increasing customer loyalty by providing streamlined and personalized brand experiences.
  • Increasing order totals by putting convenient ordering directly in the customer’s hands.
  • Attracting new customers by offering cutting-edge and tailored dining experiences.
  • Attracting on-the-go customers who might otherwise opt for quick service or fast casual restaurants.
  • Saving time and money by alleviating staff duties while simultaneously improving overall dining experiences.

Apps that allow customers to order ahead and pay from their own mobile devices offer the convenience and brand experiences they want, without sacrificing human interaction. Ultimately, casual dining restaurants who invest in mobile technology are seeing an increased top and bottom line.

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