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Café Lou Lou takes reservations in-house with new app functions

Café Lou Lou, which operates two casual-dining restaurants in Louisville, KY, is one of the first eateries to use the app’s new functionality. It became available in late August, offering independent restaurant operators some of the same types of tools deployed through the enterprise systems of their larger counterparts.

“The most valuable thing I am getting is the ability to use the SMS texting feature,” said Clay Wallace, owner of Café Lou Lou. “This will allow us to build marketing campaigns without a third party.”

The app, which installs on an iPad at the hostess station, has been used by restaurants for managing tables for several years. The newest version of the app will allow customers to make reservations via a widget on the restaurants’ Web site.

Turnkey reservations
QSR Automations, the Louisville-based parent of the DineTime Host mobile app for restaurant owners, has been in business since 1996 offering kitchen- and guest-management solutions for the food-service industry. It has primarily targeted large chains for many of its solutions.

With the newest version of the DineTime Host app, independent restaurant operators and independent franchisees of larger chains have gained new capabilities, including the reservations feature.

The app allows restaurants to coordinate table seating and availability with reservations, and to set parameters for party size and pacing. It leverages a cloud-based system for data storage.

“It makes it easier to have turnkey online reservations,” said Lee Leet, president and CEO of QSR Automations.

QSR Automations has also been testing a consumer-facing app that allows diners to see table wait times at local restaurants and make reservations. Guests also receive a message when their table is ready.

It has been promoted in the Louisville market with the slogan, “Get the app. Skip the wait.”

The company hopes to expand that app to more markets by year-end, Mr. Leet said.

Database building
At Café Lou Lou, the new iPad app functionality will help Café Lou Lou build a database of opt-in customers who provide their mobile numbers to receive text messages in the future.

“We have used OpenTable in the past, and it doesn’t capture a fraction of the variables that we can capture with this app,” Mr. Wallace said.

Café Lou Lou had been using OpenTable for reservations but will take reservations in-house with the DineTime iPad app.

The ability to conduct email messaging to reservation guests was built into the latest version of the app, but the ability to text is planned for a future update. It was too costly to include the text function in the latest version, Mr. Leet said.

Café Lou Lou is exploring the possibility of leveraging its new database-building capabilities for marketing purposes. While the app currently offers the possibility of conducting email messaging, Mr. Wallace said he would prefer to conduct those messages to customers via text when that functionality becomes available.

“We have not used SMS for marketing in the past, but we are looking at it,” Mr. Wallace said.

Final Take
Mark Hamstra is content director on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York