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46pc of diners have never leveraged mobile payment options: OpenTable

Restaurant brands can benefit from taking advantage of more mobile touchpoints during and after meals, especially as 46 percent of diners who have never used their smartphones to pay the bill are intrigued by the idea, according to an OpenTable study.

OpenTable’s Technology and Dining Out research survey uncovered what restaurant-goers want from technology before, during and after the eating experience, offering valuable insights for food marketers seeking to ramp up mobile offerings. Restaurants must effectively leverage the small screen during each of these dining process steps, as consumers prefer to conduct menu research prior to eating out and collect loyalty points afterward.

“We asked diners to tell us how they felt about individual restaurant mobile apps overall, and the feedback seemed lukewarm: 56 percent of diners describe themselves as ‘very unlikely’ or ’somewhat unlikely’ to download such an app, compared to the 6 percent who are very likely,” said Leela Srinivasan, vice president of restaurant and product marketing at OpenTable, San Francisco. “That should actually be a relief for most restaurateurs – developing and maintaining an app takes time and resources, and you certainly shouldn’t do it just for the sake of having an app.

“However, there does seem to be more of an opportunity for fast casual chains which successfully figure out how to deliver true value via their app,” she said. “Chipotle was cited by several survey respondents as a chain that ‘gets it right.’

“Their app provides a much faster way to order, saves the user’s prior orders and bakes in payment functionality. That’s the kind of integrated utility you need to deliver in order for your app to be relevant.”

Pre-meal practices
OpenTable surveyed more than 6,000 of its users across the nation in ten metropolitan regions to determine their thoughts about technological offerings such as mobile payments, touchscreens on tables and online menus.

Eighty-six percent of respondents claimed to regularly check menus online before choosing a dining establishment, suggesting that restaurateurs should ensure their Web sites are mobile-optimized and offer an easy-to-read menu preview. If menu items are not displayed, consumers can easily be swayed to visit a competing restaurant instead.

Wait lines are also an issue for guests, as 85 percent wish they would be able to tell how long a wait for table will be. Outback Steakhouse claims to be the only national restaurant chain to offer mobile access to real-time data about wait times for tables, a tactic that other major chains could stand to implement (see story).

Eighty-three percent of respondents admitted they would love to add their names to a waitlist prior to arrival. This functionality could easily be added into a brand’s mobile application or site, and could be taken one step further with a text alert to inform customers when their table is almost ready.

Complementary meal companions
Mobile devices can also act as technological companions during and after meals. However, mobile usage differs in various types of dining locations.

For example, 63 percent of restaurant-goers in high-end establishments claim they rarely or never use their smartphone during a meal, while 35 percent of diners in casual restaurants admit they do.

Therefore, quick service marketers may have an optimal opportunity to further mobile engagement while their guests are still in-store.

Additionally, 25 percent of guests always or frequently tap their devices to conduct research before a meal when deciding what to order, suggesting that review sites such as Yelp may receive higher amounts of traffic.

When it comes to mobile payments, 46 percent of respondents have not used their smartphone to pay the bill at a restaurant, but are open to the idea. Marketers who seek to bolster mcommerce should invest more heavily into in-store signage to alert customers to mobile payment capabilities and offer basic instructions on how to complete the process.

Post-meal connection with customers is of utmost importance when driving loyalty. Eighteen percent of diners frequently interact with a restaurant’s rewards program using technology after a dining experience.

However, only 6 percent are very likely to download an app, with 31 percent claiming they are very unlikely to do so.

Brands must offer attractive incentives and rewards to drive more app downloads, which means loyalty platforms should be well-integrated and offer real additive value to the dining experience.

OpenTable is also tapping into these insights by revamping some of its mobile tools.

This past March, the online restaurant reservation provider furthered its goal of providing streamlined dining experiences by undergoing a rebranding, which included a new logo, tagline and mobile-optimized Web site (see story).

“Don’t be dissuaded by the slow pace of mobile payments adoption to date; it’s probably more a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’ it becomes mainstream,” Ms. Srinivasan said. “Our survey indicates that while just 13 percent have tried paying for a meal by phone so far, a further 46 percent said they ‘haven’t tried it but like the sound of it.’

“And if you look at the responses we received to the question, ‘If you could wave your magic wand to have technology improve anything at all before, during or after the dining experience, what would it be?,’ many answers tied back to mobile payments – whether simply being able to pay seamlessly or enabling a more complex transaction like check splitting,” she said.

“The truth is, paying the bill is not a moment of dining delight. Mobile technology can and will make it better.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York