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How to Build a Restaurant App: A Guide for Post-Pandemic Startups

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Anastasia Osypenko
Market Researcher

Restaurant mobile app development quickly rose to top of the to-do list in the food industry during the height of the pandemic. Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions meant people became accustomed to ordering their meals (and groceries too) via smartphone apps. Although many restrictions have eased, people are unwilling to give up this new level of convenience. 

No surprises, as ordering online is very comfortable. There’s no need to make a phone call (hello, fellow Millennials!), and users can study the menu and ingredients. 

At MadAppGang, we worked on an order processing project called Tayble. The application covers 500 venues in Sydney and offers Australians a universal system for ordering dishes from any local restaurant. While working on this project, we explored the market and faced numerous challenges that gave us insights into the many nuances of restaurant app development.

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Example of Tayble functionality

This article is a comprehensive guide to restaurant mobile app development. Here we show you what to focus on and how to develop your restaurant app according to market demand. 

Modern customers need more than just a place to enjoy a meal. They need to have a choice based on information about location, opening times, menu options, ingredients, promotions. They need tools to define where the nearest place is, if it has the options they need, what other people say about it, if the place offers delivery and mobile payments, and so on.

Our guide is essential for all restaurateurs who want to boost their business with a dedicated application. 

Who started restaurant mobile app development?

The first thing that reshaped the restaurant industry was the installation of POS systems. The very first system was introduced in the mid-1970s, and it was basically just a cash register. In the 1990s, Microsoft created the first modern POS software, and the idea of transaction automation gained popularity rapidly. 

Modern systems allow restaurants to enhance the level of service. POS systems are now a must and it’s rare to find a place without one.

Later on, mobile payments were pushed to the fore by the big hotel and restaurant brands, including Hilton and Starbucks. The launch of Starbucks’ Mobile Order & Pay app in 2015 combined the company's existing payment system with online ordering capabilities. In 2021, over 26% of Starbucks customers in the US prefer ordering via the app then picking up their order rather than visiting a store.

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Example of Starbucks app functionality

Since restaurants closed their dine-in services to curb the spread of Covid-19, online food ordering has become a key business model. In the midst of the pandemic, businesses that didn’t have dedicated apps or didn’t collaborate with food delivery services such as UberEats, faced difficulties. Handling all the orders by phone alone was too difficult, and rivalry with delivery services was fierce, so many companies without digital offerings lost their customers.

Meanwhile, restaurants with a dedicated app and delivery services saw an increase in business. Since February 2020, as the world went into lockdown, popular services such as Uber Eats, Deliveroo, and DoorDash reported a massive increase in orders, and several small startups became unicorns. For instance, Toast, a mobile ordering app for restaurants, grew 24% in 2020 and 105% in the first half of 2021.

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Example of Toast app functionality

With these figures, it's high time to create your own restaurant app. You stand to boost your sales and satisfy clientele who prefer online delivery to dining-in. If you don’t own a restaurant, but want to get a piece of the multi-billion-dollar pie, consider building a food delivery platform. The food delivery market is expected to reach US$311 billion by 2028. 

Types of restaurant mobile applications

There are many types of restaurant software. Some satisfy restaurant management needs and others help customers to plan their restaurant visit, order food, get informed, or receive promotions on the go. Here are some popular types today:

Table reservations

Waiting in line for a seat at a restaurant may now become a part of history. People value their time and schedules more than ever before. In addition, Covid-19 restrictions and fears have accelerated the trend for online bookings. So restaurant booking system apps are now a necessity.

There are several examples of successful order processing apps: Table Agent covers over 5,000 restaurants worldwide, OpenTable covers 54,000 venues in the US, while Fork works with 80,000 venues all over the world. 

Tayble, a reservation system developed by MadAppGang, covers the Australian market. In one year, the app processed more than  500,000 orders across 500 Sydney venues.

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The OpenTable app. Source: OpenTable 

Globally, the restaurant reservations industry comprises 33,204 companies. It might seem crowded at first thought, but there’s certainly room for startups in the post-pandemic world. People will use restaurant booking apps even more for comfort and security reasons. As Andrea Johnston, the COO of OpenTable notes: "I think reservations are becoming increasingly important especially for places that didn’t use them before for capacity management. We’re in this for the long haul.” And for now, there are no obvious reasons not to trust her.  

Digital menus

The least any restaurant can do is provide a digital version of its menu. Moreover, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, QR-code menus are a must in many countries (for instance, Italy). If you’re a restaurant owner, there’s probably no sense in making just a restaurant menu app without any other features these days. Menu mapping with machine learning implementation and AR menus are trends that will become the standard in the future.

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QR-menu generator. Source: Dribbble

While working on Tayble, we built a menu recognition system to avoid manual entries and the errors they entail. The industry needs automation for as many functions as possible, and self-learning systems contribute a lot to that goal.

If you're an entrepreneur, consider offering a service that creates QR-menus for restaurants and bars that can’t launch their own app. As a model, consider Scanour Menu, a digital QR-code menu builder that charges $25 to $45 per month per location. Other good examples are Beaconstac, Orderlina, and One2 Menu.

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The Beaconstac platform interface. Source: Beaconstac

POS and checkout systems

Building a Point of Sale (POS) system for the catering industry is another good idea for entrepreneurs. POS in this case means restaurant management and payment software. An example of such a service is Toast, a platform that offers detailed server and shift management, custom kitchen communication, mobile ordering and payment processing, and more. 

Another good example is the POS system MadAppGang created for Tayble. It’s a complex solution that allows full automation of every possible action, and it’s compatible with other POS solutions, meaning any venue can join Tayble at any time.

You could also provide even more convenience to your customers by following Sunday’s example. Sunday offers an automated checkout system for restaurants, and its app not only enables QR menu generation, but also self-service checkouts. Once patrons finish eating, they simply scan the QR code to pay the bill (via Apple Pay, Google Pay, American Express, Visa or Mastercard), and leave. 

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Restaurant checkout app concept. Source: Dribbble

The product is compatible with various restaurant cash register systems (Oracle Micros, Brinks, Tiller, and others), and doesn't impose any monthly or setup fee. Instead, Sunday charges payment processing fees, so users only pay a nominal fee when they use the service. 

Ghost kitchens

Ghost or cloud kitchens are commercial facilities that produce food specifically for delivery. It's a turn-key solution that allows catering organisations of different sizes to lease kitchens, logistics, and online facilities. The global cloud kitchen market size was valued at US$52 billion in 2020 and is expected to hit US$118 billion, fueled by an increasing consumer preference for online food services. 

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Ghost kitchen app concept. Source: Dribbble

A ghost kitchen could be a very promising venture. However, such a project demands a lot of investment: renting locations, buying kitchen equipment, and so forth. Last but not least, you'll need to invest in your own POS, an order management platform, and an app for your renters to promote their products. 

Food delivery

111 million US citizens regularly use food delivery apps, preferring the ones with better restaurant options. Branded programs are still more popular, but third-party apps have expanded quite quickly, becoming the new market norm.

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Source: BusinessOfApps

Food delivery apps have seen a 204% increase in market revenue recently, according to The Business of Apps. Covid-19 regulations and the introduction of platform-to-customer services in smaller US cities means the outlook for the next few years is positive. By 2030, food delivery is projected to hit US$385 billion.

Although the pandemic has propelled the industry forward, it has also made it even more competitive. Today, when creating a food delivery startup, be ready to compete with well-established multinationals like UberEats. Not only will you have to provide excellent software and service, but also offer some features that make your service stand out. 

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Example of UberEats app interface. Source: Uber

Alternatively, you could offer game-changing solutions. For example, restaurant commissions on food delivery apps such as Grubhub and UberEats can reach up to 40%, and there are few tools to build customer loyalty. Like the Lunchbox startup, you can solve this problem with your food delivery project. This service offers a no-commission virtual marketplace for the restaurant industry. Something like Amazon, where you order food for delivery.

What do users want from restaurant apps?

Today, consumers expect a lot from on-demand services, and restaurant apps are no exception. Depending on your project, you'll need to include various features in your restaurant app development plan. There's no universal cheatsheet for entrepreneurs, however, we can make a list of the main expectations your potential customers have at the end of 2021:

Restaurant owners:

  • Customisable digital menu (photos, video, list of ingredients)
  • Filters (by ingredients, price, discounts, popularity, and similar)
  • Table reservations
  • Ordering (for takeout orders/delivery)
  • Payments (both the order payments and tips)
  • Online tracking for order statuses
  • In-app chat for customer support
  • AI-powered instruments (for example, startup ConverseNow offer Al ordering assistants to take orders via phone, chat, drive-thru and self-service kiosks)
  • Push notifications (for special offers and updates on the order status)
  • Low fees for food delivery

Restaurant customers:

  • Personalisation (for example, dish or restaurant suggestions for vegans, cereal or lactose-intolerant people)
  • Customisable menu to add or exclude ingredients
  • User reviews for each menu item
  • Order and GPS tracking for delivery
  • Social media sharing 
  • Integrated gifting
  • Detailed filtering and search functionality
  • Third-party integrations (like integration with health and fitness-tracking apps)
  • Gamification and bonus features (for example, a system with achievements, challenges, and tournaments where users earn in-app currency that goes towards goods and services)

How much does it cost to build a restaurant app?

The cost of restaurant app development is determined by many factors, including the features of the app, the platform it's built on, the technology stack, deadlines, and more. In general, a restaurant app can cost between $50,000 for an early version, known as a minimal viable product (MVP), and $500,000 for a fully developed software product.

How to find a restaurant app developer

In the case of restaurant mobile app development, you need a team, not a developer. Building an app is a complex project involving numerous factors:  elaborating the software logic and smart design, creating and testing the product, coordinating team work and so on. Hiring a reliable development company with relevant experience, such as us here at MadAppGang, is the best option. 

MadAppGang has experience building complex solutions for the food industry. Our extensive expertise helps us to tailor smart digital solutions and hit the right balance between complexity, delivery time, and cost. 

We know how to make an excellent custom restaurant app and we're happy to handle your project, too.

Why the world needs more restaurant apps

Even though there are many apps out there, a lot are ill-equipped and there are still plenty of blind spots in the industry that are waiting for innovative solutions.

In the long run, every restaurant should be included in some kind of automated booking and delivery service. Waiting for a table to become available or ordering food on the phone is not a situation modern people want to experience.

There are a lot of issues that come with integrating different restaurants into one system. Some of those restaurants might not have any automation, no digital menus, no POS, no food ordering form on their website, and so on. New solutions have to be universal and scalable first of all. They also need to be based on technology that is up to date.

How did our team counter these issues when we built Tayble, an app with a massive impact in Sydney? Get in touch with us to find out. Want to build your own restaurant app? We can help with that, too. Start off by reading these crucial steps to building a successful app.