By Daniel P. Smith
Photograph By Josh Keown

In both distance and mindset, Grand Forks, North Dakota, is far from the dreamy-eyed, tech-charged ways of Silicon Valley.

This reality does not escape Tyler Kuenzel.

“There’s a lag in technology in North Dakota and it takes a while for something to move to adoption,” says Kuenzel, co-owner of Deek’s Pizza, an 18-year-old concept with locations in Grand Forks and Fargo. “Even so, that doesn’t deter us from trying to be ahead of the curve with technology.”

To wit, Deek’s unveiled a smartphone app in late 2011 convinced the tool would boost sales and brand loyalty. “It’s another way for us to get orders into the system. Plus, it’s a great marketing tool; people look down and they see our logo,” Kuenzel says.

According to global research firm Nielsen, about 50 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers own a smartphone and an accelerating number of those folks rely on the device for everything from banking and driving directions to entertainment, shopping and dining.

For pizzerias, apps can be a cost-effective tool to stand out in a crowded marketplace and jumpstart sales.

“Having an app signals you’re a player in the market and ready to compete,” says Laura Gaudin, product manager for Revention, a Houston-based company that develops mobile apps and other restaurant management solutions.

Compared to Web sites, apps are more efficient, streamlined and easier to navigate on a smartphone. The most effective restaurant apps include:

a full menu with tempting photos alongside pricing; routinely updated specials, something that can be automated through a shop’s POS; location information, including a map; loyalty program link-in and payment functionality.

“If you’re missing any of these elements, you really need to ask yourself if you’re giving something of value to your customers,” Gaudin says. “You want to keep them with you rather than sending them to other sites, such as Yelp or GrubHub, where they’ll encounter different choices.”

Apps provide the customer greater control, result in more accurate fulfillment as orders typically travel from the smartphone directly to the kitchen, and, some data suggests, encourage higher tickets since the customer sees images of the food, has time to review the menu and pays with plastic rather than out-of-pocket cash.

Such benefits led Shawn Randazzo to launch a mobile app for the Detroit Style Pizza Company in mid-2012.

“We’re not answering phones, but making pizzas, and our customers can explore the menu and browse every category. No one’s feeling rushed,” says Randazzo, the 2012 International Pizza Expo World Champion Pizza Maker who oversees three Detroit Style locations in metro Detroit.

Before starting the app-development process, Scott Hirsch, CEO of Appsbar, a free app-building tool, says operators must ask themselves if the app will meet the basic needs of the business. In the pizzeria world, apps are most appropriate for carryout and delivery spots where guests utilize advance ordering.

“At the end of the day, the app’s a business tool and it’s one that needs to make sense for your specific restaurant,” Hirsch reminds.

Many app developers charge a small fee to create the app (from $100 to well north of $10,000) and/or a monthly fee ranging from $10 to $100. Additional costs frequently apply to post the app on a distribution platform, such as the iPhone’s App Store or Android’s Google Play, while routine maintenance fees can heighten one’s investment.

Gaudin suggests operators ask app developers: What’s the all-in cost? “You need to know what this technology comes with. It’s easy to get hooked on price alone, but there’s more to it,” says Gaudin, adding that many restaurants employ the store’s online ordering provider to develop the app since there is significant carryover between the two services.

Hirsch, meanwhile, advises business owners to visit iTunes or Google Play to review a developer’s apps and ratings.

“Each business has it’s own intricacies, so you want any developer to understand your business, which is different than a dry cleaner or a car wash,” he says.

As online ordering continues gaining acceptance, apps are expected to gain significant traction, particularly since they can store payment information directly on the smartphone.

Currently, Randazzo’s three shops capture about 100 online orders each week, about 20 percent of those coming via the store’s app. He anticipates that number climbing and hopes online and app orders eventually represent 50 percent of company sales.

“Everyone has their phone in their hands these days, so those numbers are going to go up,” he says, adding that downloads of the Detroit Style Pizza app increased when the chain began touting the app on its homepage. “If we keep promoting it, we think it will keep growing.”

At Deek’s, Kuenzel believes app orders could follow the trajectory of the shop’s long-established online ordering platform, especially as Deek’s unleashes continued promotions to spur downloads. At first slow, Deek’s online orders graduated from a few each week to a few each day, soon notching month over month increases.

“Online’s progression gives us hope that apps will similarly take off,” Kuenzel says. “Our hope is that mobile app orders reach about 15 percent of our intake within the next two years.”

Operator-friendly apps

As intriguing as smartphone apps might be as a consumer friendly marketing tool, apps can also help operators run a more cost-efficient and profitable pizzeria. Notable apps include:

  • GoPayment. By downloading this app onto a smartphone and then attaching the mobile card reader, restaurants can take secure credit card sales at off-site locations, such as festivals, sporting events or parades.
  • Cashier Live. Like GoPayment, Cashier Live allows pizzerias to accept off-site payments via smartphones. Users can also run reports and manage inventory with this portable, web-based POS.
  • MobileBiz Pro. This Android app allows restaurants to send invoices and create reports for sales, tax and profitability.
  • Freshbox. The Freshbox app allows users to record the shelf life of goods and later pushes out reminders to use the products before expiration.
  • Pair It! Wine-serving pizzerias can point upselling-motivated servers – or thirsty patrons – to the Pair It! app, which features over 20,000 food and wine pairings.

Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.

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