Connecting With Restaurant Patrons Beyond Their Smartphones: An Omnichannel Approach

Mar 12, 2013

Chances are that when something’s become a fad, jumping on board at that point is already too late – at least to be considered new and innovative.

Don’t worry. Smartphones haven’t reached that point yet – especially as their use relates to restaurants and their loyalty programs. However as this channel’s popularity grows, it’s important to remember that on-screen interactions are only part of its power. Smartphones can also be used to drive unique, innovative and entirely real-world experiences.

Studies show that 85% of smartphone users who research restaurant information end up completing some type of transaction. In other words, most smartphone users research a restaurant and then eat there. What’s more, 64% of those surveyed by ad network xAD and Telemetrics said they fill their stomachs within one hour of performing that research. With smartphone and tablet adoption rates at roughly 55% and 30% respectively, restaurants that haven’t considered some level of mobile component are a little late to the dinner party.

The trick is to move beyond the smartphone fad. Embrace it, yes, but don’t fall into the trap of letting mobile engagement be your restaurant’s only form of outreach. Instead, use it in concert with other platforms. Think in terms of omnichannel loyalty – an enterprise-level initiative to drive, track, measure and reward incremental behavior throughout the enterprise and customer experience across all channels in overlapping and complementary ways.

Past Mobile into Omnichannel Loyalty for Restaurant & Dining Panera Bread, the bakery and café chain, is a good example of an eatery breaking the smartphone stereotype by using a customer engagement strategy borrowed from the age of Classic Rock. Like vinyl records that contained “hidden” or extra B-side songs, Panera began issuing “secret menus” with different items as a way to drive loyalty. While the menus can be downloaded in mobile form, that’s not their primary use. Patrons must ask for them in-restaurant.

It may seem counterintuitive, but secret or specialized menus makes diners feel special or privileged (remember when you discovered your favorite hidden song track?). Panera menus are both an in-restaurant and mobile experience. Add to that email and push notification follow-ups and something as simple as restricting a menu for select restaurant-goers can become a loyalty driver.

Another omnichannel restaurant engagement example beyond traditional smartphone usage comes from the Mermaid Inn, a Manhattan seafood restaurant. Its “Social Media Monday” program – where players get 20% off their bill for knowing the password of the day – is a great way to engage patrons by offering a not-too-expensive giveaway, something that’s fun, generates conversation and mixes online engagement with real-world results.  Here, too, smartphones are integral to customer engagement (with 60% of expected social network usage coming from mobile). But they’re not the whole story.

Whether your restaurant is working on revamping its menus for select patrons, offering Social Media Mondays or trying something entirely different, data shows that only 36% of diners are members of restaurant loyalty programs. However, 80% say they’d sign up to a program provided their favorite eateries offered them in the first place. This suggests that there’s consumer interest, but not enough follow-through on the part of eating establishments. So while some restaurants are using mobile in creative ways, others have yet to jump on board. Only by connecting with diners in genuine ways that promote loyalty across multiple channels will they keep customers coming back. Otherwise, as with any strategy not properly updated and tweaked, patrons will lose interest.

So, beyond personalized menus, how else can restaurants broaden their smartphone loyalty solutions? What other creative “B-side” perks can restaurants employ? Chew on that for a moment and give us your feedback in the comments section below.