Apps and Appetite

Yeamrot Taddese

Gus Lazzara holds his iPhone in the air to find out the name of the song playing at work and soon consults the same gadget about where to eat dinner.

With mobile applications “for almost everything,” this smartphone junkie and self-proclaimed foodie is one of many Torontonians whose appetite is linked to apps.

According to a 2009 report by Neilson Online, there are 3.9 million mobile Internet users in Canada.

Another report by PricewaterhouseCoopers claims that Canadians’ spending on mobile Internet access will surge by 45 per cent in the next five years.

Like other business owners, Toronto restaurateurs are jumping on the mobile bandwagon to advertise their establishments. In the process, they strive to offer something thousands of other restaurants on mobile pages don’t.

The decision to take advantage of smartphone apps is wise, Pantelly Damoulianos, Dine.TO Hospitality and Marketing Consultants Inc. vice-president, said.

“It makes perfect business sense because in terms of users, when they’re looking for places to eat, they can always pop up the app and based on their geographic location find out what are the restaurants, cafes or bars nearest to [them],” he said.

But with thousands of establishments listed on restaurant apps, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.

Sean Waldie, a mobile marketing expert at Broadplay Inc., said standing out is a challenge for most restaurants.

“One of the most common pieces of feedback I have heard from restaurant owners is, ‘How do I remain top-of-mind when it comes to a patrons’ dining decision?’” Waldie said.

At Dine.TO, the answer is to advertise with pay, Damoulianos said.

Unlike the basic free service that lists a restaurant’s name, address and cuisine type, included on profiles of restaurants that advertise with Dine.TO are their menu, an interactive tool that gives users a virtual tour of the restaurant, magazine quality photography, and updates on specials and coupons.

“We’re actually the only restaurant guide in the world that integrated restaurant menus on our app as opposed to just linking them to [restaurants’] website,” Damoulianos added.

Members can log on to their Dine.TO account and update their information.

This business-to-business model of advertising is different from NOW Magazine’s restaurant guide app, which has about 2,311 restaurants on it.

Now Magazine’s food critic Steven Davey goes out to Toronto restaurants and reviews them based on their food, ambience and service. The review, which appears in both print and online, is automatically uploaded on the magazine’s restaurant app.

“We’re a magazine and we’re not out to monetize,” Joshua Errett, NOW Magazine’s online editor, said.

However, restaurants will be charged if they wish to add more information about themselves to the review. The additional information will be marked as provided by the restaurant.

The magazine’s restaurant iPhone app, which has sharing and geographic locator features, has so far had 60,000 downloads, Errett said.

Unlike Dine.TO, NOW Magazine’s priority is offering readers with information that is “100 per cent unbiased” instead of striving for the success of restaurants, Errett added.

Unlike print, tracking the success of advertising digitally is possible. Sitting at his desk in his office near Danforth and Donland Avenues, Damoulianos can see Google Analytics charts, which show restaurant owners how much of their monthly revenue can be attributed to advertising with Dine.TO.

Dine.TO assumes it drives 5 per cent of walk-ins to restaurants “although we know it’s more,” Damoulianos said.

“We’re able to provide [restaurants] in-depth information on who’s visiting their profile, when they’re visiting and what they’re doing when they visit their profile.”

Dine.TO also assigns members individual phone numbers. When users call that number, the call is forwarded to the restaurant’s actual phone number and simultaneously recorded.

“This way it allows the restaurant owner to go over the calls and put a metrics on how much business we’re driving to [them],” Damoulianos added.

At NOW Magazine, restaurants’ success is measured a bit differently.

“The measure is this: When we review a restaurant on Thursday in the paper, it’s packed that night,” Errett said.

“People follow our food critic religiously.”

Some restaurants choose to create their own mobile apps, although this is rare.

“Realistically, many independent full-service restaurants would not invest in an app as the cost to create an application can range from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars,” Waldie said.

“In addition, they need to choose which operating system to develop for ­­– either Android, iPhone, Symbian [Nokia] or Blackberry to name a few.”

A cost-effective alternative to apps is creating a mobile-friendly website, which works for all types of smartphones, Waldie said.

Another trouble with creating an individual app is getting people to download it.

“There are not too many things that can entice somebody to download your app,” Damoulianos said.

But both Damoulianos and Waldie note that it’s still possible to have a successful single restaurant mobile app.

“A restaurant stands out by offering incentives to continue to use the application,” Waldie said.

“By offering specific discounts, social engagement features like ‘comment on our new dish’ or offering the mobile users to comment on live entertainment […], they can remain top-of-mind to their customers.”

Individual restaurant apps are also more likely to be successful if users are rewarded for checking in a restaurant repeatedly and their check-ins can be tracked via the app, Waldie added.

“Social check-in services allow individuals to share a common experience with a restaurant they love, which enhances that overall experience as it now shifts from solely about the dining experience to a larger interactive experience,” he said.

Boston Pizza has come to realize this, Perry Schwartz, the restaurants’ spokesperson, said.

After noticing “pretty good” traffic coming from their basic app, the restaurant is now working on creating a new, more user-friendly app with additional offers.

“Our guests are certainly mobile,” Schwartz said. “They’re looking for a tool they are familiar with and [we] are trying to create a brand experience.”

Would Lazzara, who already has over 50 apps on his iPhone, download another one if his favorite restaurant Jack Astor’s created one?

“Hell yeah! I’d want to see their daily or weekly specials and updates,” he said.

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