Quick serves are living in a mobile world, and to ignore the rise of the smartphone would be a grave error. Today, there are about 240 million mobile subscribers in the U.S., which is a 76 percent penetration, Sauder says.
“The rise of mobile-device usage is exponential across any category, but in the restaurant business, it’s over 40 percent of all searches that are done around restaurants and [quick service],” she says. “So obviously, your customers are very active, on-the-go consumers, and you want to make sure that you have an optimized mobile site so they can get that accurate information.”
Optimizing a website for mobile can require an overhaul of a quick serve’s traditional website, but Sauder says the time and effort are worth it for when customers search for that store on a phone or tablet.
“[If a company] doesn’t have a mobile-optimized site, when I click on it, and I can’t even read the hours or the location or the special of the day, I’m not even going to go,” she says.
“In fact, it will have a negative impact on your brand.”
Sauder says quick serves’ focus on mobile devices will become even more crucial as near-field communication gains in popularity. Near-field communication lets smartphones transfer information, like a credit card payment, to another device simply by holding it close to that device.
“While [near-field communication] is not ubiquitous yet, I think it will become ubiquitous, and I think it’s important for [operators] to understand those changes that are happening,” she says.
“They should be talking to their POS providers; all of that is going to be a boom for restaurants, because it can make the transaction process faster, it can make ordering more accurate, and there are so many advantages over the long term for the restaurant industry.”
In fact, Google itself jumped on new technology in May when it announced Google Wallet, a mobile-payment app that combines payment, promotional, and loyalty functionalities all on one mobile experience.
The rise of smartphones has paved the way for consumers to be easily connected with brands both across the world and across the street.
It’s the across-the-street piece that Sauder and Seeman say is becoming more critical for restaurants.
“We really think from a reputation standpoint, and from a consumer usage standpoint, that searchability of the local space is really important, [and] how it relates to your marketplace,” Sauder says.
“Usually the competitive set for a restaurant is in a certain mile radius. ... That’s why we say understanding your local marketplace and how to be competitive is the key to winning digital.”
In fact, Seeman says, one in three searches on a mobile device are of local intent, and 75 percent of diners have used a mobile restaurant locator like Google Maps. This makes tools like AdWords and Places all the more critical, as operators can target nearby customers more carefully and be sure their information is found when potential customers in the area do a search, she says.
Moving into the future, Sauder says, geo-location—essentially, customers using their mobile devices as a GPS and opting in to be “on the grid”—will make it even more necessary for operators to focus on the locality of their business.
“We see the geo-location piece playing a big role,” she says.
“One of the new products that we will have is that you can bid by distance based on your mobile device. So if I’m searching on my mobile device for hamburgers, I could, if I’m the hamburger place, bid to get higher in the rankings, or more prominent in the advertising, on that search.”