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by guest blogger Andrew Gazdecki of Bizness Apps

What if you could blink and this cheesy grits and chicken sausage from Park Cafe and Coffeebar, would arrive at your desk. Well, not quite yet, but at least it'd be ready for pickup when you arrive at your favorite cafe.

What if you could blink and this cheesy grits and chicken sausage from Park Cafe and Coffeebar, would arrive at your desk. Well, not quite yet, but at least it'd be ready for pickup when you arrive at your favorite cafe.

There is no better food or drink ordering mobile app than the Starbucks app. It has more users than any other restaurant app and has a lot of competitors, including titans like McDonald's, taking notice and looking to replicate a similar mobile experience for their own customers. For an independent restaurant owner, this may feel like an impossible task. After all, Starbucks has a lot more resources at its disposal and a team of mobile-focused developers to continue ensuring the future growth and success of the Starbucks app.

However, if you’re an independent restaurant owner, the good news is that you can create an restaurant app with many of the same features offered by Starbucks and their mobile platform. This is thanks to the increasing number of mobile development solutions that have been hitting the market and creating opportunities for small businesses to enter the mobile-centric future with apps of their own. The rise of the best app makers for small businesses has made it easier and much more affordable to build a mobile solution.

Does your cafe, restaurant or brewery need an app, to make ordering easier?

Does your cafe, restaurant or brewery need an app, to make ordering easier?

To understand how a small, independent restaurant can create an app like Starbucks or other major food chains, let’s first take a look at what features make the Starbucks app so popular with their customers. This will allow us to understand which features are essential to any restaurant app.


Feature #1: Loyalty Program

Starbucks had a slight advantage with creating their mobile-offered loyalty program because they leveraged their already-successful, existing rewards program and turned it mobile. Thus, they already had years of prior testing and experimenting to know what type of program resonated best with their customers. If you’ve never offered a loyalty program before (mobile or otherwise), it may take some time before you fully understand what type of system works best with your customers.


That said, mobile-based reward systems are typically very impactful. When you consider that almost 9 out of every 10 customers look for loyalty programs offered by their favorite stores and brands, bringing those programs to customers on their mobile devices only adds convenience and benefits. Customers can easily keep track of their points and rewards and, as long as they have their smartphone available, they can use them at any time and without fear of losing their loyalty card. In fact, 57% of mobile users claim that a point-based loyalty program is the top feature in most branded apps.


Most mobile development solutions for small businesses and independent restaurants include some form of a mobile loyalty program as a feature in their apps, which means any company can begin building their own reward-based program to encourage customers to return again and again. There's also a growing number of services that provide impressive loyalty programs for smaller businesses.


Feature #2: Mobile Payment Options

While consumers and avid Starbucks-ers report highly on mobile-based loyalty programs, it’s arguably the mobile payment options offered by the Starbucks app that has allowed it to truly shine. This feature makes it possible for users to pay for their order (even including the option to add a tip) directly from their smartphone. Again, this provides a lot of convenience for Starbucks customers, especially since they are likely already reaching for their device to check their rewards points and see if they have any applicable coupons.


Mobile food ordering options have become a significant trend brought on by how much we use our smartphones and other mobile gadgets. In fact, we're now using our mobile devices for over 50% of all of the digital media consumption. Paying with a smartphone is just more convenient to customers today than digging out the correct change for a cash transaction or even swiping/inserting a credit card.


Many restaurant-based apps, Starbucks included, allow you to make purchases directly in the app through a third-party plugin like PayPal, Square, Google Wallet, and others. However, to actually be optimized for mobile payments, you may have to upgrade your POS system to be able to accept these transactions seamlessly.


Feature #3: Order Ahead

The Starbucks app doesn't just allow customers to pay through their mobile devices; they can also place an order directly through their smartphone as well. This option to pay ahead adds a ton of convenience and value to a customer's Starbucks experience. By having the app and an option to place and pay for an order ahead of time, customers can eliminate the need to wait in line; they simply walk in and grab their order. Everyone, at some point or another, has been in that position of waiting in line when you need to be somewhere else (like at the office). This feature makes it easier for customers to get on with their day.


By placing orders ahead and having fewer people wait in line, Starbucks gets the added bonus of having shorter queue times, which benefits customers that don’t have the app or didn’t choose to place their order earlier. The feature essentially lets the chain coffee shop handle more customers in a shorter amount of time.


Starbucks isn’t the first restaurant-type business to leverage pay-ahead ordering. If you’ve ever called in an order to your favorite takeout place (or placed an order online), you’ve seen this before. What makes it so compelling, from Starbucks’ point of view, is their high volume of foot traffic. At peak hours, the line for Starbucks can be tremendous. Having the option to circumvent that line is incredibly valuable.


Arguably, this is the hardest feature of the Starbucks app for an independent restaurant to implement in their own business. Not only does it require building the feature into an app, but there also has to be the right training and infrastructure at the restaurant itself, so that mobile-placed orders are displayed somewhere for kitchen staff to see and be able to respond to so that orders aren't lost. This is something that even Starbucks struggled with in the beginning.


Feature #4: Simplicity

While more of a characteristic, rather than a feature, simplicity is an important thing to remember when designing an app for a restaurant. All too often, businesses looking to get their foot wet in the pool of mobile development try and do too much at once. Having lots of features may seem like you're covering all the bases by offering enough stuff, so there's something for everyone, but you'll be causing more harm than good. You'll dilute the features that really matter with ones that are underutilized by the majority of your users.


Achieving simplicity, regarding your mobile app, may sound easy, but it can actually be difficult to balance against your desire to include certain features. To avoid feature creep, you should have a clear idea of what your app is designed to do. What are its objectives? Then, anytime you sit down to discuss adding a new feature, think about whether or not this feature would serve those objectives.


For example, let’s say you create an app with the intent to improve client retention and provide convenience to customers (very similar to the Starbucks app’s objectives). If that were the case, you’d probably want to pass on including a mobile game within your app. As fun as games are, including one wouldn’t serve the primary focus of your app and it would thereby detract from what you are trying to accomplish. Instead, you’d be better off creating a separate app for your game or shelving it for a later date, when your mobile objectives have shifted.


Creating a simple app also has to do with how easy it is for the user to sign up and get the most out of your app. You should always be working towards eliminating unnecessary steps whether in the signup or functionality of your app. The more you can cut away, the more refined and clean the app will look and feel to users.

A restaurant app in action

A restaurant app in action


Creating an app for your business or independent restaurant is an advantageous way to bring your eatery into the Digital Age. Starbucks supplies us with an excellent example of how a restaurant, cafe or deli might use a mobile app to improve business. As successful as their app is, however, it is important to know that apps are not one-sized-fits-all. Starbucks has found what works for them, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you'll find the same level of success with the same or similar offerings.


As you explore mobile solutions for your own restaurant, think about what you feel will resonate with most with your customers and what is feasible with your business. Again, Starbucks has the added benefit of having tested and experimented for years with different loyalty options, ways for customers to pay and order and so on. Chances are, you’ll have to do some experimenting of your own to know what your unique customers are truly looking for in a mobile experience. Thus, you shouldn’t get discouraged if your app isn’t an immediate success. It may just be a matter of changing what the primary objectives of your app are or asking customers how they think your app should be designed. After all, they’ll be the ones downloading and actively using it.


You may feel encouraged to test and experiment with a number of different features at once. No matter what your final mobile product looks like or which direction you decide to take it, always remember that simplicity is paramount. Instead of trying to test everything at once, focus on creating a functioning app that has just one or two features that directly benefit your goals. Then, build and develop from there. This will ensure that you have a sturdy, successful mobile foundation to build and grow your app on.