Which is the best option?
Let's take a look at the case for mobile web vs mobile apps.
Rapidly changing trends and an increasing reliance on smartphones by virtually the entire population mean that your business needs to be available 24/7 on mobile devices. This gives rise to the burning question: "does my business need a mobile app or is it better to rely on a good mobile-responsive website to access my customers?"
The case for having a mobile application:
A mobile application or 'app' is an application that is specailly designed for use on mobile devices. These specifically build pieces of software are usually distributed via a download platform, most commonly the Apple Store, Google Play Store or Windows Store.
A custom built, user friendly interface: Since these apps are built specifically for mobile devices, they offer fast interfaces and a visually appealing presentation of the information.
Quick Performance: Information is stored locally and is available from within the application instrad of having to call upon it from the web. Images, content and other assets load instantly and provide the user with a satisfying experience when compared to a mobile responsive website.
Push Notifications: Apps will allow the administrator to enable push notificaitons, which send small targeted message notifications to the end user. This is a great way to deliver direct marketing content as well as staying connected with your audience.
It looks cool!: It is still percieved that having an app does a lot for the public image of your company. People tend to form the opinion that you are a large, reputable brand when they see that you have an app for download in the various app stores. This is not however a reason to go out and develop an app at great expense when it may not be necessary.
Smartphone clutter: Apps take up a lot of space on smartphones. People now use their phones as cameras, wallets, email devices, etc. so space tends to be at a premium. There is a growing distaste for having a lot of unnecessary apps on the phone, because these valuable megabytes of memory are considered more useful for content like images and videos. Nobody wants 10+ restaurant apps on their smartphone.
Apps are expensive: Building an efficient, elegantly designed mobile app is extremely expensive, and without a hefty marketing budget to run alongside its launch, it is highly unlikely that your restaurant will be able to direct a signifigant amount of traffic to an app. This makes a mobile website a far more desirable and much smarter option.
Updates: Apps require constant updates, and there is no guarantee that your users will update the app each time a new version is released. Also-maintaining an app is essentially like maintaining a small software platform. this can lead to expensive maintenance and a lot of hassle when it comes to ensuring that your app is compatible with the latest iOS/Android platform releases.
Having an app is essential for restaurant chains that have a large footprint and a huge customer base. For operators of a smaller size, the cost implications of launching and maintaining an app are more than likely not worth it.
The case for having a mobile responsive website:
In most cases, it is a better option for restaurant owners to focus on a well designed, efficient website that is fully mobile responsive. More often than not, customers will be using a mobile browser to find your business, so your website needs to be fully optimised for mobile and ready to take orders/reservations, etc at the tap of a button.
Browsers: As mentioned, the main source of traffic to your restaurant will be mobile web browsers, and by extension, Google searches. Your website should be fully responsive and should display nicely when navigated to from a mobile browser or search engine. Choosing to only offer an app will place the onus on your customers to download your offering, and ther is little to no guarantee that they will do this.
Development: Your website will be constantly developing, and if it is built correctly then any changes you make will automatically be reflected in the mobile version. This is not the case with an app-it is expensive to maintain applications, and in the absence of a direct API to your website then two sets of platform updates will be required.
Universality: A mobile responsive website can be viewed on any platform: there is no requirement to develop the platform for various differeent systems (iOS/Android, etc). When you build an app, it must be rebuild for several different operating systems which is not the case with a mobile responsive website.
Variable load times: Depending on the user's connection, your website will have varying performance and load times. This of course will also have an effect on performance of apps, so it is something of a moot point.
The message is clear:
Unless you are operating at a sufficient scale to justify the use of mobile apps, your resources will be put to more effective use by directing them towards the development of a well constructed mobile responsive website. Apps are costly, and unless you have a large market brand exposure then you will struggle to find a signifigant audience for your app.
A good mobile responsive website on the other hand, will allow you to be easily found via search engines/mobile browsers and will allow your customers to engage with your business when they want to without requiring them to download an application. Start with a great mobile responsive website, grow your business and only then consider the use of a bespoke app.