The Battle for Mobile Mindshare: Restaurants Face Off In A Mobile Ecosystem

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Article Contributed By Ron Halverson, Ph.D., President, Halverson Group

COVID-19 changed everything, including the way we eat… well, the way we decide what to eat and the way we order our food.

In this post-pandemic “new normal,” with restaurants facing competition from third-party ordering and delivery apps, and a continued influx of mobile orders, a high-functioning mobile app is no longer a nice-to-have but a need-to-have. The benefits are well-documented, with restaurants reporting labor savings, increased loyalty and higher check averages. As you would expect, many restaurant chains have read the writing on the wall and are dedicating resources to brand-worthy apps that can support a more convenient, seamless ordering experience.

Still, despite the storm of restaurant app development, little is known about how consumers use their suite of mobile apps. Every restaurant app is part of a mobile ecosystem, and consumers are rapidly forming habits in this ecosystem — habits that greatly impact how and where they spend their dollars.

At Halverson Group, we’ve successfully piloted the Community Intelligence™ platform that powers our Restaurant Intelligence Dashboard. This proprietary platform is built on a panel of highly engaged, verified US consumers who have opted-in for mobile device and location logging. Our panel is nationally representative in age and ethnicity, including key audiences like Gen Z. We have real-time access to engage consumers based on their recent app and location behaviors. We can measure restaurant app-use share, the app use to physical visit conversion index, and app satisfaction ratings, and can record consumer perceptions of digital app experiences. With the ability to engage this community in behaviorally triggered quant and qual interviews and focus groups, we dive deeper into the ‘whys’ behind consumer behavior in real-time.

What we’re discovering is surprising. Consumers today spend one-third of their waking hours on mobile apps. And, while restaurant apps make up only a fraction of all app use (0.4% share), an estimated 52% of Americans had used at least one restaurant app in February 2022, up from 48% the year before. But how and when consumers use restaurant apps can vary drastically. For some, mobile ordering and technical functions of the application like payment and loyalty tracking are the main reasons for use. These users decide where they are going to eat first before opening the app and placing an order.

  • Arctic Gardens
  • ServicePower
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • IRFSNY 2023 International Restaurant and Foodservice Show New York
  • National Restaurant Association Show 2023
  • California Energy Wise Foodservice Instant Rebates
  • Day & Nite
  • Inline Plastics
  • Imperial Dade
  • Waring
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Arc Cardinal
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • New England Food Show 2023

But for others, opening a restaurant app is the first stage in the process. We found that nearly one in five users open multiple restaurant apps in a given day; follow-up conversations with consumers confirmed they often explore and compare app to app before deciding where to purchase.

When we homed in on the quick-service restaurant (QSR) segment, we found the conversion rate from app visit to physical restaurant visit to be relatively low. Of all the instances where a consumer opens a restaurant app and arrives at a restaurant within the hour, 28% of the time the restaurant they visit is not the same as the app they opened.

Clearly, there is a fierce battle to be won in converting app visits to restaurant visits — and winning or losing could significantly impact revenue. So how do restaurants win?

Halverson Group’s deep dives into consumer motivations have uncovered three key insights that are immediately actionable to perfect your restaurant’s mobile app experience.

First, seamless is relative. Poor usability is the No. 1 reason cited by our consumer panel for abandoning an app experience. Restaurants carefully plan every in-store touch point; it’s equally essential to think through every step of the digital experience. However, digital teams must remember that users judge the usability of an app within their mobile ecosystem. If improvements in navigability and ease of use aren’t meeting competitive benchmarks, this may be part of the reason your mobile users are app-hopping. Many restaurants in the QSR segment may assume mobile-frustrated users will default to ordering in-store; in reality, they may go from a bad app experience to another restaurant’s doors.

Digital deals hit differently. Often, when users open more than one restaurant app, they are price shopping for the best available deal. With rising commodity and labor costs, many quick-service chains are abandoning discounting strategies for in-app deals. This manifests in loyalty programs, mobile exclusives and geo-located promotions. Digital teams should consider personalized marketing strategies to ensure deals win over the guests comparing nearby brands.

Finally, we’ve learned that loyalty is a two-way street. Loyalty programs are a known driver of restaurant app usage. From points for dollars spent to free birthday treats, loyalty rewards come in many successful shapes and sizes. But for many consumers, loyalty goes both ways and, much like price shopping for deals, consumers are comparing loyalty programs side by side from their mobile devices.

If loyalty rewards aren’t consistent, consumers will open a new restaurant app, enroll in a new program and start spending their dollars elsewhere. For mobile-based loyalty programs, sustainable rewards are key to converting in-app visits to in-store spend.


Ron Halverson Group

Contact Halverson Group for more insights on how to win the battle for mobile mindshare at halversongroup.com

About Ron Halverson, Ph.D., President: As president of Halverson Group, Ron has armed executives, marketers, strategists, innovators and their agency partners with the consumer and business intelligence they need to more confidently make bold strategic decisions about where to play and how to win. Ron has a 25-year track record of delivering game-changing insights to many of the world’s top brands.

  • California Energy Wise Foodservice Instant Rebates
  • IRFSNY 2023 International Restaurant and Foodservice Show New York
  • Arc Cardinal
  • Day & Nite
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • New England Food Show 2023
  • ServicePower
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Arctic Gardens
  • Imperial Dade
  • Waring
  • National Restaurant Association Show 2023
  • Inline Plastics