Consumers are increasingly relying on Web-enabled phones to find their next place to eat, forcing many restaurants to keep their websites updated and optimized for mobile browsing, a new report found.
According to a study of more than 10 million page views from Constant Contact’s SinglePlatform network, mobile traffic accounted for 42 percent of all menu views for restaurants participating with SinglePlatform and its partner websites from Oct. 25 through Dec. 3. That percentage was even higher in some large markets, including 62 percent in New York City and 57 percent in Charlotte, N.C.
The study also found that 52 percent of views occurred on Apple iPhones, while the second most views happened on iPads, demonstrating the growing influence of smartphones and tablets on restaurant traffic.
Though much traffic leading to a restaurant’s digital menu would still come from a traditional Web search and visit to the eatery’s website, the acceleration of mobile searches means restaurants must ensure their websites are adaptable to smartphone browsers, said Wiley Cerilli, executive vice president and general manager of New York-based SinglePlatform.
“It was the first week where the number of mobile menu views surpassed [those from the] Web, which is important for a number of reasons to restaurants,” Cerilli said. “A lot of their menus aren’t mobile-optimized yet and are still built with Flash. If something like 64 percent of smartphone users convert in the hour, having websites mobile-optimized is critical.”
Cerilli cited an earlier study  from xAd, Nielsen and Telmetrics to confirm that 64 percent of smartphone users who find a restaurant through some kind of mobile platform convert that search into a restaurant visit within 60 minutes.
“That is the most significant stat,” he said. “Make sure your mobile-website updating is happening as quickly as possible. And because the average spend is higher on the weekends than weekdays, Thursday and Friday are the perfect time to do it.”
Traffic to restaurants’ websites and digitized menus also increases significantly on the weekends, with 33 percent more page views occurring on Saturday and Sunday compared with the rest of the week, the study found.
Restaurants, consumers focus on mobile
SinglePlatform’s study also noted that people spend an average of about two minutes and 11 seconds looking at a restaurant’s menu before closing their browser. Often those users open multiple restaurants’ menus in several windows to compare them. This highlights the need for restaurants to ensure their menus stand out with easy navigation and engaging food photography, Cerilli said.
“The average person is looking at two menus per visit now,” he said. “Usually, if I look at a menu and pass on it quickly, it means I’m not interested. Restaurateurs should want more time spent with their menus, which is why most of our partner websites are adding photos and the ability to ‘like’ certain menu items.”
Many of SinglePlatform’s partner sites, like Yellow Pages, have features where users can search the website or mobile app for restaurants by menu item, he added. When people find a restaurant by first searching for one kind of menu item, like fish tacos or Buffalo wings, the restaurant gets double the number of calls than if users had searched for it by name, the study found.
The top markets that garnered the most menu views through SinglePlatform’s network of digital-menu listings were New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Restaurant chains in all sectors have begun devoting more resources to mobile commerce to leverage its popularity, particularly through the adoption of smartphone apps. Over the past year, brands like T.G.I. Friday’s and Jersey Mike’s Subs have developed apps that incorporate crucial functionalities  like mobile payment and loyalty club management, in addition to providing digital menus. Dunkin’ Donuts launched its mobile app  in August with a stated goal of speeding up transaction times by allowing mobile payments.
The nation’s largest pizza chains long have been at the forefront of mobile-commerce in the restaurant industry, and Domino’s Pizza last month rolled out a Spanish-language version of its smartphone app to serve Hispanic customers.
As more independent and chain concepts invest in mobile technologies, industry researchers believe consumer demand for such apps and mobile-friendly websites should continue to grow. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast , released Tuesday, 40 percent of adults, including 60 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34, said they would use smart-phone apps to view a menu at a limited-service restaurant if they were offered.
SinglePlatform was founded in 2010 and acquired by Constant Contact this past June.
Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected] .
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