It feels a bit like an overnight success story. All of a sudden, in a matter of months, a heavy handful of restaurant chains — Taco Bell, Panera, Starbucks, Wendy’s and others — have very boldly launched mobile applications with ordering and payment features that promise to change the way customers interact with brands.

But there is very rarely a real overnight success. Executives at these restaurant chains have worked for years to find or build the right features and offerings that will drive user engagement and that all-important check average and return visit.

Mobile is finally having its day in the spotlight. And it should.

The number of consumers using mobile payments is expected to grow to 500 million in 2017. That same year, the value of mobile transactions in the United States is expected to rise to $244 billion. And among consumers aged 18 to 34, 74 percent say they would currently order takeout or delivery on a mobile device, and 52 percent said they would use mobile payment. Those numbers leave very little room for debate.

“Mobile is the biggest shift in QSR since the drive-thru,” Jeff Jenkins, mobile lead for Taco Bell, told Nation’s Restaurant News.

In the story, NRN’s Ron Ruggless provides an in-depth look at how major chains have worked to develop and launch mobile initiatives, what consumer trends support the investment and what 10 questions all restaurants looking to jump into mobile should ask themselves. We also put together a handy glossary of technology and mobile-specific terms, as nothing is worse than sitting in a meeting with a vendor and having to Google everything that is said. (Trust me, after four website redesigns, I’ve been there. While I didn’t have to Google it, if I heard “KPI” one more time, I was going to actually throw my mobile device rather than use it.) So that you’re a bit more prepared, we help eliminate confusion surrounding APIs, loyalty progression and an SDK. 

While technology is clearly altering the state of the restaurant industry, so too are the people who make it up.

I was able to attend the 25th Women’s Foodservice Forum Annual Leadership Development Conference in late March, and there I spoke with some of the most impressive executives working in restaurants today. We offer a gallery of highlights from the four-day conference attended by more than 3,000 industry professionals. To see the turnout and energy the WFF has created was a real testament to progress — from its founding by 14 executives 25 years ago to the strides made in this post-recession business environment. As Laurie Burns, the outgoing chair of the WFF and chief development officer at Darden Restaurants Inc., told NRN, “Companies are a little bit back into the behavior of investing in their teams and their teams’ development.”

I hope that’s true. We all know technology will change, and change rapidly, whether we like it or not. It’s only the smartest, nimblest and most prepared executives who will embrace that change and use it to drive profitable and relevant restaurant brands.

Contact Sarah E. Lockyer at sarah.lockyer@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @slockyerNRN.