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The influence – and limits – of restaurant smartphone apps

Market Force survey finds increasing adoption of digital platforms but mixed impact on loyalty

More restaurant brands are connecting with their customers through digital platforms, especially restaurant-branded smartphone apps, but they continue to wrestle with loyalty even while being in the consumers’ pockets, a new survey has found.

“A restaurant app does not replace the need to interact with staff,” the recent “Guest Experiences & Competitive Benchmarks” survey by Peachtree Corners, Ga.-based Market Force Information, a customer experience management company, found in its key takeaways. “Real relationships still matter.”

Market Force InformationMarket_Force_Survey_-Mobile_App_Downloads_2019.png

The latest survey found 58% of consumers have downloaded restaurant-specific apps to their smartphones or tablets, down from 63% in the study a year before and up significantly from the 7% in 2017. Market Force Information has conducted the survey for five consecutive years.

Third-party reviewing platforms, such as Yelp and Trip Advisor, continued to impact casual-dining visits, however.

“Despite the continued growth and adoption of various food delivery mobile apps, Yelp and Trip Advisor are the most impactful to casual-dining-brand guests in terms of their likelihood to visit a particular restaurant,” said Brad Christian, Market Force’s chief customer officer. He added that “49% of our study respondents indicated that they are highly influenced by ratings that appear on those two sites.”

And restaurant brands have responded, he said.

“Leading brands are developing social listening methodologies to ensure that they see and engage negative customer sentiment on social channels,” Christian noted. “Those brands either develop the competency internally or outsource to those firms who have a track record of excelling at guest recovery online.”

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The survey also found that viewing a restaurant brand’s menu has remained the top reason for consumers to download a restaurant app over the past three years, but those respondents are increasingly using apps to place orders. In 2019, 59% of respondents said they used apps to place orders, which grew from 54% in 2018 and 39% in 2017.

The Market Force survey was conducted online in November 2019 with 6,598 respondents. About 73% were female and 26% male (with 1% preferring not to answer), and 58% had household income of more than $50,000 a year.

The Market Force survey also ranked brands by culinary segment with its “composite loyalty index” score, calculated from an average of top likelihood to recommend percentages plus top overall satisfaction percentages.

The top five scored brands in composite loyalty, in order, were: First Watch, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, Texas Roadhouse, MOD Pizza and Mellow Mushroom.

The most recent survey found the majority, or four of seven, categories posted lower index scores than in the prior year. Categories and top rankings in the November survey included:

General Menu: Cracker Barrel Old Country Store at 54%, down from 58% in the prior year.

Breakfast: First Watch at 68%, up from 58% in the prior year.

Buffet: Sweet Tomatoes at 54%, up from 51% in the prior year.

Italian: Maggiano’s at 56%, down from 64% in the prior year.

Pizza: MOD Pizza at 59.8%, down from 76% in the prior year.

Seafood: Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen at 64%, up from 55% in the prior year.

Steakhouse: Texas Roadhouse at 61%, down from 63% in the prior year.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

TAGS: Marketing News
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