360 Degree View of Mobile Interaction

SinglePlatform Constant Contact OfferHere’s some food for thought that may be tough to swallow: As a restaurant or bar owner, you are more likely to be neglectful of prospective customers than any other consumer industry.  And the device to blame for this is probably within arm’s reach of you right now.

Smartphones have revolutionized how consumers interact with local business. With the integration of social networks and location-based technology, at any point and time consumers can now instantly find nearby restaurants that come highly recommended by their peers and friends.

With this in mind, this past quarter SinglePlatform conducted two separate studies examining mobile technology’s influence on both consumers and local businesses. One study found that restaurants and bars are the most searched industry by consumers online, with 81 percent of consumers searching for them via mobile apps and 92 percent through web browsers in the past six months.

Meanwhile, the second study found that only 51 percent of local businesses have ever updated their online or mobile menus and listings. When you consider that over 129 million Americans now own a smartphone, it’s troubling to see so many business owners not jumping on to the mobile trend.

This paper will examine the two studies in detail, providing a 360-degree view of modern customer-restaurant interactions, with mobile technology placed firmly in the center. It will then explore how restaurants and bars can seize the opportunity presented by mobile technology, as, due to customer demand, they stand more to gain through smartphones than all other local businesses.

Consumers: Searching online at all times

Take off your business hat for a second and put on your consumer shoes. How do you personally discover new bars, nightclubs, or restaurants? Do you open the drawer underneath your kitchen counter and pull out the phone book, scanning endless pages in the attempt to find a new spot you haven’t already frequented? The answer is no, because this is not 1993. In 2013, to find new local businesses, you go online.

According to SinglePlatform and Chadwick Martin Bailey’s April consumer survey, 81 percent of consumers have searched for a restaurant on a mobile app in the last six months, outperforming other industries like retail outlets, entertainment and hotels. With your consumer shoes still on your feet, can you recall a recent time when you were walking down the street, wondering if there was somewhere nearby where you could grab a bite, only to pull out your smartphone and open Yelp, Foursquare, or Facebook? Four out of five of you will say yes.

The importance of these searches cannot be understated. The same study found that 75 percent of consumers choose where to dine based on their search results, with 80 percent indicating that it is important to actually see the menu. Seventy percent state they need to be able to view a menu specifically on a mobile device, and 62 percent of consumers are less likely to choose a locale if they can’t find its menu or listings on their smartphone.

Now if you’re like me, you probably keep your business hat on at all times, even when told to take it off. “This is all well and good,” you may be saying. “But does all this actually mean anything to my bottom line?”

Well, last October Nielsen found that 64 percent of mobile restaurant searchers convert to paying customers… within one hour of their search. Yes, being found on smart phones will impact your bottom line, and it will impact it almost immediately.

Restaurants: Still searching for answers

As mentioned earlier, almost half of local businesses have never updated their online listings or menus.  While this in and of itself is unfortunate, the supplemental results from SinglePlatform’s February local business survey reveal additional inconvenient trends for restaurants and bars searching for new ways to gain customers.

Lack of education on digital trends and awareness of the tools needed to increase visibility online seem to be the main reasons that restaurants remain invisible on the web. The February survey found that a meager 23 percent of small businesses have a good sense of how listings drive traffic to their business, and only one in four know how to create a mobile-optimized website.

Having no mobile visibility can lead to one set of problems in attracting customers. Having false or inaccurate menu information online can present entirely new problems, and this happens with startling frequency. Fifty percent of respondents reported having found inaccurate information about their business online. Working in the restaurant or bar industry, you have undoubtedly found yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain that, for whatever reason, you can’t provide the dish or drink that the customer has requested. Inaccurate online listings are increasingly becoming the reason for this.

If updating your menu everywhere it appears online- on web browsers, mobile apps, social media sites, your own websites (both mobile and desktop)- seems to be a daunting task, then you’re not alone. Seventy percent of local business owners cite a lack of time as the reason why they aren’t attempting to manage online listings. The fortunate part for you, and what may become an unfortunate part for your less enlightened competitors, is that there are easy and efficient ways to update your own menu and represent your own brand everywhere consumers search online. And you can start right now.

Bridging the consumer/restaurant divide

 So how do you go about connecting with all those prospective customers looking for places on their phone to eat and drink? Here are four easy steps to get you started:

  1. Make sure your business can be found on the most popular mobile consumer apps.

Look at the mobile apps your current customers and you as a consumer use, and get your business on them. It’s free to set up profiles on Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, and Yellow Pages, among others, and as consumers continue to rely more on their smartphones, these apps stand to become even more popular. Get ahead of the curve now.

  1. Don’t ignore travel and city guide sites.

“Local prospective customers” does not just refer to consumers that live nearby. Particularly if your restaurant or bar is in a city, it also refers to travelers who are completely new to the area. Connecting strangers with a strange land is what has made sites like TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon so successful, and you should not forget about those sites when updating your menu and specials online.

  1. Provide visuals whenever possible.

Whether you’re on your desktop or a mobile phone, images increase engagement. In fact, we’ve seen as much as a 30 percent increase in click-throughs among our customers who include images of their menu items. You are proud of how your drinks and meals look. Further entice prospective customers by showing them off.

  1. Do all of this easily, efficiently and economically with digital storefront technology.

Digital storefronts are services that allow restaurants and bars to easily update their menu and specials information across a wide array of online publishers- the Yelps, Foursquares, and TripAdvisors of the world- as well as across social media profiles and websites, all from one central location. From new food items and promotions to pictures of your latest cocktails, digital storefronts allow you to control your own business’ information while simultaneously reaching a wide audience of interested consumers where they spend most their time searching: online.

How consumers interact with businesses seems to change on a daily basis, and it’s often hard if not impossible to keep with the latest technological trends. However, one trend remains certain.  Since the advent of smartphones only a few short years ago, mobile technology continues to play an ever more central role in all aspects of our lives. Restaurants and bars that recognize this trend now, and seize the opportunity it presents immediately, are well-positioned to enjoy continual success and increased foot traffic for a long time to come.

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