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How to Build a Restaurant App with Buildfire

Ian Blair

Imagine the best day you’ve ever had at your restaurant. There are filled tables everywhere that seem to be refilled just as customers leave with signed receipts on their tables. Waiters are in and out at just the right pace as the cooks finish crafting the orders. The bar is doling out drinks at breakneck speeds, customers happily tipping each and every server you have on hand. You close up your restaurant, feeling content at the wonderful day, but wondering if the next day will bring the same level of success. How will you make sure your customers still think of your restaurant when they’re not actually at your restaurant?

An app would fix that. By creating an app for your restaurant and giving your customers incentive to download and use it, your restaurant will essentially always be with them in their pockets or bags. At their fingertips, they’ll have your menu, contact information, location, special deals, coupons, and more. In the following guide, you’ll be walked through the process of creating a simple and easy-to-use restaurant app using the Buildfire app-building platform. Throughout this guide, we’ll be walking through the restaurant app template The Kitchen as an example of what a restaurant app should look like.

 

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Restaurant, fast food or cafe — a mobile app is the perfect companion to your business. Quality service throughout the whole customer experience is arguably just as important as the quality of your food and drinks. This experience can start before they even step in the front door — on their mobile device.

Branding Your App

Let’s start with your app’s appearance. The way your app looks should be synergistic with the way your customers experience your restaurant. What colors are in your logo? In your restaurant? What fonts do you use? When you have the answers to these questions, then shimmy on over to the Appearance section of your control panel.

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Theme Colors is where you can control your app’s colors and fonts. Our fonts will continuously be updated so be sure to check back every once in a while to see if there’s another font that you might like better than the one you’ve chosen.

 

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The section below that is where you can manually select colors for each part of your app. Changing these will change the respective sections, words, and buttons on the emulator on the right hand side. If you find that one of our preset themes are close enough to what you’re looking for, then go ahead and select it in the section titled Preset Themes below.

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Plugins

Plugins in Buildfire are the main features of the app. They make up the actual meat of the app, and Buildfire has dozens of which to choose from. If you choose the default Restaurant template “The Kitchen” when signing up, then your app will have already come with several pre-added plugins.

If you’d like to add another Plugin, all you have to do is go to Plugin > Add Plugin.

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Find the Plugin you’re looking for, then click Add next to it.

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After you’ve created the plugin, you can add it to your app by going to the Home Plugin, a Folder Plugin, or your Side Menu, clicking on “Add Plugin Instance,” and selecting that Plugin.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, let’s move onto which plugins are the most important to add to your restaurant app. Let’s go over the default plugins that appear on the restaurant app template, The Kitchen.

Menu

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Menu is a Folder plugin. You can always tell what Plugin you’re currently in by looking at the top here. This folder is organized in the same way a regular paper Menu is.

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Your customers can use it to decide on what they’ll order before they get to your restaurant or to show their friends your cuisine to convince them to eat there next time.

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If you click on Breakfast, for instance, you’ll be taken to another Folder Plugin that in turn houses several Text WISYWIG plugins which then have more information on the dish. Let’s start by changing a Breakfast dish. Click on Breakfast, then the first Text WISYWIG plugin.

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On this next screen, you can change the name of your dish, replace this photo, and input some information on the dish.

 

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Your changes should be applied automatically. You can tell because it will say “Saving” at the top of the screen. Now when you click the back arrow, you’ll see your new dish populate on this screen.

Order

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Next up is the Order feature, which is a WebView plugin. The same idea for reservations goes for ordering food to-go. A call or need to do it online doesn’t give the same sleek and fluid experience to the customer as doing it via an app does. Simply add a WebView plugin and insert a link to a food ordering website at which you have an account. It pulls up a browser within your app that links to whatever you paste in this field. If you have a website dedicated to making online orders already, this is perfect! We suggest using Place Bag, a fast and easy online ordering system.

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The easier you make the ordering process for your customers, the more often they’ll order from you. If ordering your food to-go is an option, then having a quick and easy option to do that is a must-have for your app. If your customers are craving your food, but don’t have time to call you or to wait in line at the restaurant, then you should make it as simple as possible for them to order. With just a couple taps, you’ll be alerted of a new order and they’ll be on their way to pick it up.

 

Loyalty & Rewards

Ever wanted to simulate the way Starbucks does their Loyalty program, but without the need for hole-punching physical cards that get lost at the bottom of purses and cars anyway? We know how important it is to build up a loyal customer base, in fact a repeat customer is more likely to continue to come back and shop with you time and time again. That’s why we built a plugin specifically for that purpose.

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With the Loyalty Plugin, you can create different tiers that your customers can reach with points they can accumulate by doing specific behaviors (such as spend a certain amount of money or buy a specific dish or drink).

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It’s a great way to incentivize your customers to keep coming back. Here you can change the photo and text.

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Below that is where you can start building out the program, indicated by how many points they can earn per purchase and dollar, as well as limits.

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The “Add Points Passcode” creates a safe environment for your program, so that users cannot add points themselves. This code is one that you can use to manually add points to a user’s account under special circumstances. And finally, you can click on Add New Reward to create a new reward tier.

You can get super creative here. Reward tiers could be every sandwich or cocktail they order, or every happy hour they attend. Maybe add a reward tier every time you introduce a new dish, just to get more people to try it out.

Reservations

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The way to make a reservation in the past was to call in, talk to a busy host or associate, discuss an open time to make a reservation, and then book it. While some restaurants allow for reservations to be made online now, it’s still not quite as convenient as simply taking a phone out of their pocket, opening an app, tapping on Reservations, then visually making a reservation on an open calendar slot. With our Open Table Plugin, integrated with Open Table, you improve your customers’ experience by doing just that.

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Reserve via OpenTable is our OpenTable Plugin. If you have an OpenTable account, just copy and paste your link here.

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If you don’t have an OpenTable account, we recommend that you try them out. With a similar logic to Ordering, the easier you make the reservation process for your restaurant, the more reservations you’re likely to get.

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Your other option for reserving a table would be to use our Contact Us Plugin. Contact Us opens up a Contact Us Plugin to show your location and contact information. Simply type your address into this field here and insert your contact information by clicking on Add Contact Information.

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Locations

Say your customer’s been to your restaurant once before and wants to go again, but doesn’t remember where it is. The typical solution to this problem, and one that many of us tend to do, would be to open up a mobile browser, google your restaurant’s name, then tap on the result that has the address link and Google Maps image attached. This is quite tedious.

Enter the Places plugin, which we called Locations in the template.

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This plugin is especially helpful if you run a chain or franchise of restaurants, as it allows you to input multiple locations for every restaurant you run. If your customer is traveling but would still like to eat at your restaurant, then they can open up this plugin and quickly see where your other locations are.

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To set a location for your restaurant, click on All Items then Add New Item.

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Here you can fill out your restaurant’s location as well as add your contact information. The cool part about our Locations plugin is the customer can simply use it to pull your location directly into an app like Google Maps to get directions with no need to manually copy and paste the address, which is incredibly convenient.

Coupons

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While discounts should be doled out sparingly, rewarding your customers once in a while with a special deal doesn’t hurt! Coupons are a great way to reinvigorate customer interest in your food, especially those who haven’t visited in a while. They tackle the part of your customer segments that aren’t persuaded by your Loyalty Plugin and its rewards; the two work hand-in-hand.

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The Coupons plugin in the template is a Folder that has simple Text WISYWIG plugins in it. Feel free to edit the Text here with a coupon or bar code that your customers can use when paying. Paper coupons are easily misplaced, and it takes time to pull up a digital coupon from an email. Directly sending a coupon to your app ensures that you customer can have a seamless experience paying for their food and receiving their discount.

About Us

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Some might argue that your brand is just as important as the food. Regardless of where the two lie in terms of rank of significance, there’s no question about it: people are curious. They’re curious about how your business came to be and what inspires it. Customers want to know the waiters serving them, the cooks cooking for them, and the managers who run the show. All of this personal information creates a connection between your business and your customer that can be accomplished with just a simple plugin — the About Us plugin.

The About Us plugin is a chance to add some fun language to your business! Describe the experience of eating there, the local atmosphere, and the awards you’ve received. You can also add a People Plugin to introduce your customers to the waiters, chefs, and the rest of your staff.

Social Wall

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The Social Wall lets your customers communicate with one another about your restaurant, and let you know what they thought of the food and experience. Communication is an important part of bettering your service and your relationship with your customers. By giving them a space to talk about whatever they’d like. You can also create more than one Social Wall Plugin, each for a different purpose. One could be for bringing up concerns with you, another could be for general praise. There’s a lot of potential in the Social Wall Plugin and how it mediates communication, so get creative!

When adding the plugin at first, it’ll look pretty empty. Once your app is published, and people start posting on it, this section will look more filled out.

Social Media

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Social Media plugin is for linking to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more. All you have to do is Add Plugin Instances of the different social media plugins we have.

Being social is incredibly important to a business’ survival nowadays. Users often discover new places to eat from whatever their friends delightfully post that day on Instagram. By letting your social media accounts be available just at their fingertips, it makes it just that much easier for your customers to follow your account, then tag you in a photo of their food, thus continuing the cycle of new customer discovering your cuisine.

Other Features

Outside of Plugins, there are some general mobile app know-hows that you should keep in mind — the most important of which are Analytics and Notifications.

Analytics

The Analytics section has two parts: Segment and Downloads and Registered Users. Segment is an external application that requires you to sign up for a Segment account while the second is free and provided by Buildfire for your use.

Segment

Segment is basically a middleman between your app and whatever analytics program you’d like to import your information into. It can pull your information into programs like Google Analytics, Marketo, Salesforce, Intercom and more. With this data, you can learn where to focus your efforts on marketing your app or making it more engaging. For more information on how to use Segment, check out their website.

Downloads and Registered Users

Downloads is a compilation of all of the downloads that your app has had thus far across both app stores. Over the long term, a healthy trend would be to see this number increase every day, with a stable and increasing trend over time. In order to increase your number of downloads, you can market your app in your restaurant and use the Share App Plugin.

Registered Users refers to the number of users that have created an account in your app. Having registered users isn’t necessary, but in order to use the Social Wall (or access Plugins that have the “Requires Login” box checked), your customers must create accounts. Having customers registered helps you measure how engaged your users are with your app. Registered accounts also become handy when it comes to notifications.

 

Notifications

The most compelling reason to create an app is probably to take advantage of the Notifications feature. You can control the notifications in your app under the Notifications section of the sidebar in the control panel. Send new notifications under the Notification Center, create user groups under Groups, and keep track of your Users under User. The users will be registered accounts.

Notifications are the most powerful way to keep your users engaged. You can remind your customers of special deals, send out a coupon code, or announce a new dish. Every app is different, so there’s no general rule about how often you should send notifications, but it’s good to keep in mind what kinds of customers you have. Do they like learning about special deals? Or would they much rather open your app when there’s a new dish on the menu? Figure out which notifications do the best and when and continue to optimize and learn over time.

 

Conclusion

Back to closing your restaurant at the end of a long and successful night. How will you make sure your customers still think of your restaurant when they’re not actually at your restaurant? By putting a QR code on a pamphlet at the table that will allow your customers to download your app while waiting for their food; by uploading coupon codes and new dishes to your app; by sending out a notification letting them know about your restaurant’s news — these are all ways that you can stay on the minds of your customers. They’ll share your app with their friends, tag your restaurant in their photos on Instagram, and order take-out food all from your app. This way, your best restaurant day will never truly end — it’ll stay alive in your customers’ phones.

 

Want the visual guide? Here’s the video:


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Ian Blair

BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.

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