A Complete Guide to Building a Restaurant Guide App

A Complete Guide to Building a Restaurant Guide App
Learn about the current restaurant guide apps leading the industry, and what features to include in your restaurant guide app to see mobile app success.

The last couple of years have been difficult for the restaurant industry, with many restaurants closing, opening, or adapting their business plan to fit new dining habits. Takeout and delivery business in particular saw a massive surge while dining-in took a hit. As more people are venturing back out to restaurants, customers are relying on restaurant guide apps more than ever to help them learn what the new dining options are in their area.

If you want to craft a compelling restaurant guide mobile app, a thorough process becomes critical. Your team needs to understand what differentiates the most popular dining guide apps from the rest of the pack; determining what features and functionality to add to your app. Including standard features customers want becomes critical, but you also need to offer something different that makes your app unique and worthy of a download. 

Additionally, you need to assemble a team made up of talented software engineers, designers, and power-users, all led by an experienced ScrumMaster or project manager. At the same time, following a modern iterative software development methodology ensures any problems or bugs get found early, when more cost-effective to fix. So let’s dive into the details on how to craft a compelling restaurant guide app. 

The Growing Importance of Restaurant Guide Apps 

It seems every town in America with a population over 5,000 to 10,000 now enjoys a thriving restaurant scene. Foodies who enjoy traveling around the country increasingly depend on restaurant guide apps to find a great place to eat no matter their location. Interesting metrics reveal the growing demand for restaurant guide apps to help users find great dining options for takeout, delivery, or dine-in. 

Statista reported bullish data for global online food delivery with revenue of $343.8 billion in 2022, projected to grow to $407 billion by 2026. This shows an annual growth rate of 8.3%. They also reported an increase in the Online Food Delivery sector, as the number of users is expected to grow to 2.7 billion by over that same period.

While this industry sector definitely saw a downturn due to COVID-19, it looks to be rebounding in a positive fashion. In fact, the National Restaurant Association noted a 19.7% increase in sales in 2021 compared to the previous year. Ultimately, the pandemic made restaurant customers more comfortable with using mobile apps to find great food for delivery, dine-in and takeout. Even as diners return to actually eating inside the restaurant, expect the digital transformation of this business sector to continue. 

That said, it becomes obvious restaurant guide apps benefit both the consumer as well as the eating establishments themselves. After all, they remain a great way for restaurants of all types to attract new clientele. So let’s look more closely at some of the top restaurant guide apps in the business to see what features to include in your company’s app.

Yelp Ranks at The Top of Many Restaurant Guide Lists

Yelp enjoys a status as one of the best platforms for localized online reviews, including a significant focus on restaurants. In addition to a website, the company also offers mobile apps supporting the iOS and Android platforms. Your company needs to consider supporting as many platforms as possible to increase the number of users for your app. This includes smartphones and wearables in addition to tablet and desktop computers. 

One of the major advantages of the Yelp service relates to its massive user community. It currently boasts more than 50 million reviews of businesses all over the globe. Their app makes it easy to search for restaurants close to the user’s location, and quickly read reviews, peruse menus, and see photos of the place and its food. Ease of use remains a critical factor in any restaurant guide app’s subsequent popularity. 

Foursquare Goes Beyond Just Becoming a “Mayor” 

Another popular localization-based review platform, Foursquare still allows users regularly visiting a local establishment to become its "mayor." These gamification features help to engage users in any local guide app, including those focusing on restaurants. Consider adding similar functionality to your app for an extra measure of sizzle.

Mayoral features aside, Foursquare still makes it easy to find cool local restaurants. It also provides a mechanism to follow other users. So if someone trusts a reviewer’s taste when it comes to dining out, they simply follow that user. It’s another feature worth adding to your restaurant guide app. 

Grubhub Focuses on Restaurants and Online Ordering

Unlike Yelp and Foursquare, which cover many types of local businesses, Grubhub enjoys a singular focus on restaurants. It lets you search for restaurants near the user’s location, while also providing online ordering functionality. The latter remains a critical feature to add to your app, especially when considering the digital transformation in the dining sector. Consumers now want the ability to order from the same app in which they found a cool restaurant. 

To grow its userbase, Grubhub purchased another popular restaurant guide service, EAT24, formerly owned by Yelp. Grubhub provides similar features as other popular restaurant ordering platforms, like Uber Eats and DoorDash. The mergers in the restaurant delivery space reveal the strong competition and growth potential ushered in by the pandemic. It’s another reason to include online ordering in your organization’s restaurant guide app. 

Zomato Provides a Robust Global Restaurant Guide Platform 

Zomato provides users with a searchable guide of restaurants located all over the world. Like Grubhub, the company purchased another popular restaurant guide, Urbanspoon, to grow its user community. Zomato also recently added food ordering as part of its app’s functionality, hoping to compete with Uber Eats and DoorDash. 

The platform currently boasts over 1.5 million restaurants as well as 285 million ratings and reviews. Users definitely benefit from the insights provided by this massive amount of content. It behooves any restaurant guide app developer to launch with a similar amount of restaurant data, depending on the target market. Building a robust user community also becomes critical, so provide a means to incent new reviews. As noted earlier, the gamification model works well for this purpose. 

OpenTable Provides a Useful Restaurant Reservation Service 

A restaurant guide that focuses on restaurant reservations, OpenTable includes a website as well popular apps on Android and iOS. The service lets users find restaurants based on their current location. It also includes reviews and ratings. 

Being able to make reservations online remains the biggest differentiator for OpenTable. The service still garners a measure of popularity even in a space seeing much competition, as well as mergers and acquisitions. As such, this feature is also worthy of consideration for your company’s restaurant guide app. 

What Features Do Users Want in a Restaurant Guide App?

The modern foodies desires certain features from a restaurant app. It’s easy to extrapolate this functionality to consider its inclusion in a restaurant guide app. Of course, working closely with restauranteurs becomes essential for some of these features. 

Expect a gift card program to rank at the top of this list. As noted earlier, it’s a case where you need to partner with restaurants listed in your guide. This enables your app to offer universal gift cards redeemable at restaurants you list. A popular feature like this definitely serves to attract users. 

Considering the popularity of DoorDash and Uber Easts, many diners want online ordering ability. Notably, this is a feature we keep mentioning. It’s also a major reason an online restaurant delivery service, like Grubhub bought a restaurant guide provider, like EAT24. 

For convenience sake, consumers also want to make online reservations using a restaurant app. This feature remains a leading reason OpenTable still attracts users in a competitive industry. So consider adding all three features to the requirements for your company’s restaurant guide mobile app project. 

Other Features Worth Adding to Your Restaurant Guide App 

Beyond the features noted above, your restaurant guide app also needs to include functionality to make foodies want to use it on a regular basis. For example, gamification features, like the mayorships provided by Foursquare, help engage users. The ability to follow other users also helps build a network of others with similar culinary tastes or from the same area. 

Certain basic features need to be included, like the ability to add photos taken within the restaurant, especially the food and menus. Additionally, having a way for restaurant owners to leverage the app to add text-based menus, coupons, and specials also needs to be considered. Other guides offer similar functionality for restaurant ownership.

Location and mapping functionality is also critical as users usually need help getting directions to any eating establishment. At the minimum, integrate with Google Maps or other map data providers. 

Advice on Making Your Company’s App Stand Out From The Pack

In the end, it becomes critical to provide users with a compelling reason to download and use your company’s app. Many competitor apps exist in a sector dominated by only a few leaders. In this scenario, standing out from the pack becomes critical. 

As such, consider partnering with restaurants in your region for their insights on what a great guide provides. Additionally, target some potential super users for their opinions on the features worthy of inclusion. Their knowledge also becomes helpful when used as a testing resource once the project begins. Considering using restaurant owners for QA as well. Read further for a collection of best practices suitable for any mobile restaurant guide app development project. 

Best Practices For Building a Popular Restaurant Guide Mobile App 

Of course, crafting a mobile restaurant guide app remains a complex software development effort. Your company needs talented software engineers and graphic designers either in-house or on a contract basis. Obviously, this team requires significant experience in mobile app development for both iOS and Android. You also need to use a modern iterative methodology like Agile or Lean Startup, as noted earlier.

Large mobile software development projects like these take a significant amount of time. However, the timeline ultimately depends on the amount of available resources. A typical project team includes programmers, designers, QA engineers, a product owner, and a project manager. 

Any collection of technical professionals obviously requires significant pay as well as a working space, virtual or physical. In this scenario, partnering with a digital agency specializing in mobile development might make sense. Additionally, significant funding remains critical, including resources aimed at marketing a mobile restaurant guide app in a competitive niche. 

Don’t Skimp on Requirements and Design Before Any Code is Written!

Don’t forget your project needs a detailed requirements and design phase aimed at identifying the app’s feature set and eventually the project timeline. Once again, a competitive market already exists for mobile restaurant guides and online food ordering services. Because of this, your app needs unique functionality combined with a sharp UI/UX to stand out within this market. This initial project phase must be completed before any code is written. 

When following the Lean Startup software development methodology, you also need to determine the basic features to include as part of a prototype known as a minimum viable product (MVP). We also previously mentioned about leveraging a few super users to help with the QA process. Include restaurant owners as well, especially if including ownership features in the app. 

Lean Startup ensures you receive the vital feedback necessary to ensure your team stays on the right track throughout the project. Without it, your team essentially flies blind until the app goes live. When using an older methodology, don’t be surprised if  the app fails to make any impact in the marketplace.

In the end, a mobile restaurant guide provides a unique opportunity for success. But don’t forget it’s a complex technical effort requiring your technical and marketing teams to essentially thread the needle. Don’t short shrift any aspect of this initiative, including design, development, QA, and marketing.

When searching for a talented and experienced partner for your next digital venture, look no further than the team at NineTwoThree. Our history crafting successful mobile apps and digital platforms for both existing businesses and startups makes us the right fit with your team. Connect soon to discuss your great idea for a mobile app or other digital venture.

Tim Ludy
Tim Ludy
Articles From Tim
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