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Is mobile ordering just a fad or a restaurant essential?

Mobile ordering is still fairly new to the industry, but based on industry experts, the area has an opportunity to boom for both restaurants and consumers. From mobile reward programs, coupons and deals, mobile dining gives marketers a way to better understand what consumers want.

“Not only do restaurants get their message to their consumers, they also get a lot of eyeballs on their brand with mobile,” said Scott Todaro, vice president of marketing Aislebuyer, Boston.

“Using a mobile dining app shouldn’t be a second thought for consumers,” he said. “We want to make it part of everyday life.”

Mobile connection
Via mobile, restaurants are establishing a one-on-one connection with consumers – especially  in fast, casual restaurants.

“By pushing data and information to people, mobile ordering apps establish a personal connection between consumers and restaurants,” Mr. Todaro said.

“Most people don’t form a relationship with the people serving their lunch,” he said.

“Especially with fast casual restaurants, there isn’t any loyalty associated with restaurants anymore – if there is a long line, consumers abandon it and take off.”

According to Mr. Todaro, the goal of mobile ordering goes beyond pushing consumers in and out of restaurants as quickly as possible – it is about adding on to sales and targeting consumers in ways they cannot get elsewhere.

In particular, Aislebuyer works with companies to create specialized apps that hone in on individual brands’ missions.

“Repeat customers let restaurants push new offers, deals and coupons to consumers,” Mr. Todaro said. “Restaurants are also able to track how many purchases consumers make and reward them with mobile loyalty cards.”

Multi-platform diners
Seamless, formally Seamless Web, is another  company that recognizes that hungry diners want as many options as possible.

After changing their name, the company realized that they could not bank on their consumers only using their desktops to order food.

“We had to reposition the brand to include a more robust set of tools that were completely focused on the brand of our company, which is meant to be quick and accurate,” said Jonathan Zabusky, CEO of Seamless, New York.

“Consumers want flexibility so we had to shift away from the Web emphasis of Seamless,” he said. “Meeting our consumers wherever they are has driven our goals.”

Seamless currently has applications for the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and a mobile site.

Seamless noticed consumers were significantly changing their buying habits with the company.

Instead of placing an order on their desktop that they wanted in several hours, they wanted to use the mobile service for a quick fix, particularly with pick-up orders.

“If you decide to pick-up, you only want to order on something that’s convenient for you on the way,” Mr. Zabusky said.

“Thirteen months ago, we didn’t have any applications and only saw one percent of our total sales coming from our mobile site,” he said. “Now, on any given Sunday we see 20 percent of our orders coming in through mobile.”

Seamless predicts that by the end of the year, over a million orders will be completed via mobile.

The company also hopes to increase its mobile sales to account for 30 to 40 percent of sales in one year.

“The majority of the restaurants we work with are small, owner-operated businesses,” Mr. Zabusky said. “If restaurants aren’t on mobile, they’re missing a huge opportunity for their business.”

“In addition to where consumers are eating, we know what they are eating and when they are eating it, which puts us deep in the transaction of a purchase and is a great way for restaurants to leverage their consumer knowledge,” he said.

Taking care of business
Mobile ordering platform Snapfinger sees mobile dining as an advantage for restaurants to better equip their company.

The company has apps on Android, iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 devices.

“Takeout and delivery is the fastest growing industry with $140 billion in total sales and 10 billion transactions per year, which have traditionally been done by calling,” said Jim Garrett, CEO of Snapfinger, Atlanta.

“Often part-time employees are not equipped to sell the menu and it’s a big part of the restaurant industry that is mishandled,” he said.

“Without mobile, it’s virtually impossible for a company to exist,” he said.

Snapfinger introduced mobile ordering three years ago but has seen the biggest kick in mobile orders in the past 18 months.

Snapfinger’s emphasis on business can be attributed to its group of chain-restaurant clients, which includes California Pizza Kitchen, Subway and Outback Steak House.

“Mobile will be the dominant source of order-ins in the next three years with 70 percent of sales,” Mr. Garrett said.

“If you don’t have a mobile presence as a business, then you are not relevant to the majority of the marketplace because consumers’ lifestyle dictates spending on their mobile devices,” he said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York