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Can Tech Solve Restaurants’ Slump?

Filed under Casual Dining Burgers, Research

Market Force Information has released its annual study of casual-dining brands, based on input from more than 9,216 consumers. There’s a lot of interesting data—including the naming of Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen as these consumers’ favorite—and while none of it relates directly to burger-menu restaurants, which weren’t included, there is some information that might be useful to readers.

Whataburger's app

Whataburger’s app

I generally undercover technology issues, so I’ll draw attention to findings in that area. Market Force’s study finds 41% of consumers polled say they have downloaded a restaurant mobile app for their smartphone or tablet. The gender difference is minimal: 42% of women have downloaded an app, compared with 41% of men. App usage is fairly consistent (43% to 47%) for consumers ages 18 to 54.

Whataburger and Shake Shack (mobile ordering in limited markets) are among the burger brands that have launched mobile apps in the past month. And McDonald’s latest app, the McRib Finder, helps consumers find stores where McRib is offered.

What do consumers do with restaurant apps? View menus (69%), read reviews (47%) and find locations (46%) are the top ways. Yelp is the top reviewer, downloaded by 54% of consumers polled. Trip Advisor (35%) and OpenTable follow.

Shake Shack's app

Shake Shack’s app

The study finds 37% say they have used a tablet at a casual-dining restaurant. Reviews are mixed. Just 26% agree or strongly agree (top box on a 1-5 scale) that tablets “help ensure correct orders are received.” Fewer—20% top box—say the tablets “make the overall dining experience more enjoyable.” That’s not even one out of five.

And here’s where I jump to another part of the study, because it’s possible to overthink restaurant operations; possible to overly rely on technology simply because the technology exists. Casual dining has been slumping for years. Where customers give the category poor marks are areas of simple execution and of responsiveness to customer needs. Only 16% of respondents gave casual-dining chans agree/strongly agree scores for “Was more of an experience that just a meal transaction.”

Just 28% gave top box agreement that service was fast; the same percentage agreed/strongly agreed that the meal was good value for the money. Only 22% were satisfied with the number of healthy-food choices.

As you know far better than I, it’s the operational basics that elevate meals and improve satisfaction.

4 Responses to Can Tech Solve Restaurants’ Slump?

  1. Perhaps more people like people, than those who don’t (by necessity or preference) — perhaps FOH is the wrong place to put technology?

    “Fewer—20% top box—say the tablets “make the overall dining experience more enjoyable.” That’s not even one out of five.”

    I also think MCO may not have the expertise to really roll-out technology. Larry Wise in the 1980’s made Citibank kill 4 revisions of their self made ATM before releasing revision #5 — and 80% of Citibank customers used their ATMs vs. about 40-45% for competitors whose ATMs didn’t catch-up many years.

    I haven’t used the Taco Bell App in a while but it’s a good example that tech role out needs to be rigorous and well tested.

    My experience with Taco Bell’s App was wonderful — up until the point of pickup. 1 x the store wasn’t open but the app accepted my order; other times everything was smooth including displaying my order on the pickup window. However, at other times it wasn’t.

  2. Very good article and certainly highlights some issues. I recently went to an In and Out outlet in California. The place was absolutely packed with people. I have never seen any Burger Restaurant with more people queuing, sitting, eating, waiting. The Burgers were good too.

  3. Alex Wilson

    I’m your average Joe Consumer. I have yet to find any App for any restaurant that I kept on my phone for long.
    If I am out driving I can’t (hello driving) and don’t care to pre-order my food. If I’m in a rush, I do drive through and not sit down.

    Most apps are not up to date, missing local specials, etc. If I want to find the location I use a map app or Yelp. Taco Bell is a perfect example of an app I tried and deleted with in a minute. No you may not access my location when I’m not using the app Taco Bell, bye bye.

    Speaking of Yelp. More restaurant need to get involved. When I see that the owner hasn’t claimed the restaurant I know they are out of touch. It doesn’t take a lot of replies but, use the app to showcase – upload menu photos, respond to the Negative Nancy, thank frequent customers (we do notice) Yelp isn’t perfect but it’s a lot better then many apps.

    As for the tablets at my table, I hate them with a passion. If you are going to do it; then ditch the waitress, let me keep my tip in my pocket. Thinking they are better at getting your order accurate tells me that you didn’t properly train our wait staff and that we are overpaying for poor service employees that can not write or communicate.