All Articles Food Restaurant and Foodservice 'We need to build a mobile app': agencies and utilities vs. frameworks

‘We need to build a mobile app’: agencies and utilities vs. frameworks

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice


“We need to build a mobile app,” is one of the most terrifying phrases that I’ve heard uttered over the past six months. Far too often, brands jump into building an app simply to check the box and without a thoughtful strategy in mind. Deciding to “go mobile” with no purpose is like deciding to go fishing without a fishing pole: success is highly unlikely without hooks.

The impulse to go mobile is understandable, with more than 75% of mobile subscribers owning a smartphone and the average smartphone user reaching for his mobile phone 150 times a day (or far more in my case). Yes, not having a mobile app in 2015 is the equivalent of not having had a website in 2000. But I cringe when I hear marketers talk about mobile apps as nothing more than another “engagement” tool that simply replace the engagement tools of old. More often than not, marketers view the smartphone as nothing more than a screen that lots of people have and like to look at or a new form factor for a plastic card or a sheet of paper.

And so, it’s no surprise that many marketers gravitate towards mobile app framework companies that promise to build them mobile apps, without any specific expertise in a utility that is meaningful to restaurant guests. These mobile app framework companies seem content with overpromising and under-delivering when it comes to utility, failing to deliver a compelling user experience and thus failing to deliver a meaningful return on the restaurant brand’s investment.

I imagine the tradeshow floor conversation going something like this:

Marketing Executive: We need to build a mobile app.

App Salesperson:  That’s great! We can build you a mobile app!

ME: What could our mobile app do?

AS: What would you want it to do?

ME: What should we want it to do?

AS: How about a game?

ME: Millennials love games! Sold!

The smartphone is so much more than a screen or a replacement for a plastic card or a sheet of paper. The smartphone is identifiable, contactable, interactive, web-enabled, location-aware and commerce-ready. The smartphone provides restaurant brands with a new way to do business with their loyal guests, enabling greater hospitality through enhanced service models that make the guest experience faster, more accurate, and more personal. The smartphone empowers the guest to order and pay from everywhere and the restaurant to accept orders and payments from everywhere.

When restaurant brands come to Olo to build a mobile app, it’s always with this kind of reimagined service model in mind. Brands come to Olo to deploy a multi-channel digital ordering platform (call center, desktop web, mobile web, mobile app, and whatever comes next!) as the core of the mobile app experience. The restaurant brand then has a choice to make: 1) have Olo build the mobile app or 2) have a digital agency build the mobile app, utilizing Olo’s API for ordering-as-a-service. When restaurant brands want additional utilities (e.g. loyalty) incorporated into their mobile apps, they may want to choose the second option. Digital agencies like Bottle Rocket, Chaotic Moon, Push, Fueled, Fuzz Productions and Solertium are all solid partners to serve as mobile app developers, building on top of utility partner API’s to deliver a stellar mobile app experience.

If your brand is thinking about “going mobile” or is stuck working with a mobile app framework company that’s incapable of adding the utilities to your mobile app that will make it worth a guest downloading and using, it’s time to rethink. To quote author and speaker Simon Sinek, “start with why.” Why do you need to build a mobile app? What’s your brand’s purpose in going mobile? What’s the key utility that you’re hoping to provide? What would make you want to download your own app, if you truly think like one of your loyal guests?

Decide on the utility that you want in your mobile app first and pursue relationships with best-of-breed utility players that can provide your brand with the utilities you need. Then talk to your utility provider partners about who they recommend build your mobile app. That’s the cleanest and clearest way to create a mobile app that your guests will love and one that will generate a meaningful return on your investment, not just check a box.

Noah Glass is the Founder & CEO of Olo. Since 2005, Olo has helped restaurant brands increase revenue per square foot by delivering faster, more accurate, and more personal service through digital ordering. Today, over 10 million consumers use the Olo platform to order ahead and Skip the Line at the restaurants they love.


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