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Thus far, not many smartphone users have tried location-based applications. But several restaurant chains—realizing that customers who use such apps are more loyal—believe they can be the push that gets more people trying them.

Using location-based applications on mobile phones, restaurants can connect with their customers immediately; customers using these apps visit restaurants nearly twice as often as those who don’t. In its campaign, Buffalo Wild Wings suggests that its diners check in to its locations using their phones. The target customers for this chain are young and tech savvy, and with its in-house games and sports broadcasts, Buffalo Wild Wings is uniquely situated to encourage customers to connect and bring their friends along.

In partnership with Scvngr, a company that targets tech-savvy basketball fans, Buffalo Wild Wings has developed location-based applications that also offer contests and encourage frequent visits to win. Customers can earn free chicken wings or soft drinks within their first three visits. Other contests push them to upload photos of the crowd’s reaction to a big play.

Moreover, customers can develop their own challenges from their bar stools. Approximately 10,000 people participated in 33,000 challenges in the first week after the launch of the app, and 5,000 of them won rewards.

Whereas the Buffalo Wild Wings application spans all its many locations, a small dessert shop has developed its own location-based applications that test customers’ knowledge of its menu and encourage them to upload photos to earn points. Winners get discounts and free desserts. Soon, it may be that every restaurant serves up not only food but also a chance to prove your loyalty.

Discussion Question: Do location-based applications have potential, or are they a fad?

Elizabeth Olson, “Restaurants Reach Out to Customers with Social Media,” The New York Times, January 19, 2011.