Tech Tracker: Creating a Starbucks-caliber app experience Joyelle West

Tech Tracker: Creating a Starbucks-caliber app experience

Smaller brands aim to level the playing field with enhanced mobile apps

This installment of Tech Tracker looks at how smaller restaurant brands are striving to create polished, user-friendly apps to better compete with the industry’s digital powerhouses.

Most restaurant companies, especially independents, don’t have the capital or in-house IT departments to develop proprietary programs to suit their business needs.

That’s where companies like LevelUp step in to level the playing field in a way that allows independent restaurants and smaller regional chains to offer a digital experience that rivals much bigger players.

Boston-based LevelUp works with regional chains like Flour Bakery + Cafe in and around Boston, as well as Flower Child — part of Arizona-based Fox Restaurant Concepts — and Pasadena, Calif.-based Dog Haus. 

In October 2017, Flour Bakery + Cafe tapped LevelUp to launch the 18-year-old brand’s first app, and loyalty program. It allows customers to order and pay ahead using their cell phones. 

“You show up, and your order is ready and you’re out the door,” said Mike Brucklier, director of operations for the seven-unit brand owned by 2016 James Beard-award winner Joanne Chang.

In the next few weeks, LevelUp is launching a 2.0 version of Flour’s app that allows users to make digital gifts to charities or friends and family.

Brucklier said the latest version will allow customers to donate any monetary reward earned from its loyalty program to a charity. The app also lets guests donate directly to a designated charity, which changes each month.

The customized app will also let users send virtual gifts to friends and family. For example, you can buy your best friend a cupcake on his or her birthday. The recipient will then receive an email notifying them of the gift, which can be redeemed at the counter.

“It’s almost like giving someone a gift card,” Brucklier said.

He said Flour’s personalized app helps the brand better compete with large chains known for speed and convenience.

“We are located many times next to Dunkin’ or Starbucks or Au Bon Pain,” he said. “For specific things like coffee, Starbucks has a well-built app. LevelUp has allowed us to compete on their level.”

LevelUp recently added 25 national and regional partners to its portfolio including Smoothie King, Zaxby’s, Clean Juice, Kung Fu Tea, and Honeygrow.

Concord, N.C.-based Clean Juice, for example, which has about 90 franchise locations open in the U.S. across 16 states, worked with LevelUp to develop the company’s loyalty and digital engagement program from the ground up.

The 170-plus-unit Kung Fu Tea, based in New York, tapped LevelUp to overhaul the brand’s loyalty and digital program, with the goal of attracting millennials.

The revamped app features an integration with Popdeem, a social-loyalty platform that rewards customers who spread brand buzz via social networks.  In the case of Kung Fu Tea, users are rewarded for sharing photos of Kung Fu drinks.

LevelUp also recently introduced a new feature called Broadcast. It allows restaurant clients to “broadcast” their menus on platforms that offer mobile ordering and payment, such as Facebook, Yelp, and Foursquare.  Brands using Broadcast include Potbelly, Mama Fu’s, and Togo’s. 

Have a tip on new restaurant tech? Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven

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