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Data Reveals that Restaurant App Features Should Adapt with Customer Age


Technology and service are inseparable.  Both hospitality providers and guests alike have become dependent on technology to transact business and communicate with one another.  More importantly, technology availability drives consumer purchase decisions.  As part of the annual Customer Engagement Technology Study, we explored how technology usage and preferences varied between different generations.  When it comes to important mobile website/app features, we found the younger group (under the age of 40) rated all 16 features as significantly more important than the more mature group (age 40 and above) did.  Although the technology acceptance level has increased for the above 40 group, this finding suggests that age still significantly influences consumers’ technology acceptance levels in the restaurant mobile technology context.

As shown in Table 1, the mean difference between the two groups were considerable (larger than .65) for the following features: (1) accessing to personal social media accounts, (2) watching videos about food sourcing and processing practices, (3) mobile payment, (4) influencing product/menu development, (5) discovering secret menu items, and (6) ability to order by chatting with a robot (i.e., chatbots, digital assistants). The younger group showed positive opinions toward these features (mean scores higher than 3), while the older groups demonstrated either natural or negative attitudes toward these features (mean scores 3 or less than 3). The implication of this finding is that the restaurant operators targeting the younger consumer group should consider incorporating these features into their mobile website/app. On the other hand, restaurants targeting older consumer group should be aware that the usage rate of these features are expected to be lower than other features.

We also ranked the important mobile website/app features for each group. The results indicate that the top 10 important features are similar, but the order was somewhat different between the two groups. As demonstrated in Table 2, the top four features were the same across two groups. Thus, we recommend restaurant operators include these features in their restaurant apps (i.e., “ability to make dining reservation,” “receive and redeem coupons, discounts, and special promotions,” “read and post consumers reviews,” and “search for the restaurant with location-based integration”).

The key differences we found from Table 2 was that “Ability to make dining reservation” was ranked as the most important feature in the younger group, while this feature was ranked as the third important feature in the older group. In addition, “Discover secret menu items” and “Mobile payment” ranked fifth and sixth in the younger group, while they ranked ninth and tenth in the above 40 group. The implication of this finding is if a restaurant can identify a customer’ age (e.g., via loyalty program or asking their birthday), the restaurant can personalize its mobile website/app for younger vs. older customers. For example, for younger customers, the mobile website or app could automatically guide them into their preferred features, such as discovering secret menu items and mobile payment. For older customers, the following top five preferred features can be displayed on the main screen of its mobile website/app: (1) receiving and redeeming coupons, discounts, and promotions, (2) reading and posting consumer reviews, (3) ability to make reservations, (4) searching for the restaurant with location-based integration, and (5) purchasing and redeeming gift cards. 

As part of our study, hotel and restaurant guests were also asked to provide attitudinal responses to several questions related to service, technology, and the human touch.  Over three-fourths of the consumers surveyed indicated that they like to use innovative and new technologies when interacting with hotels and restaurants and that they find that technology enhances the services received and positively affects the overall experience.  However, 72% expressed concern that technology is overcomplicating the service delivery process and detracting from the experience.  This suggests an incongruence between technology and business process fit, which ties to a point made in the introductory section regarding service design and blueprinting.  Even more telling was that 90% of consumers stated that they prefer interacting directly with employees rather than using technology to transact business.  These findings were surprising, given that Millennials and Gen Z are the people most often expected to use technology whenever they can.   Interestingly and yet puzzling is how the same groups of people responded to this series of questions because their responses are diametrically opposed.  One might conclude that guests are schizophrenic, but perhaps the real learning is that (1) preferred service delivery methods are individual and situational, (2) guests want a blend of both the human and technological elements, and (3) all service must be delivered seamlessly, flawlessly and friction-free at every touchpoint.  That is a tall order that requires hospitality providers to be sure there is a tight fit between people, business process and technology.  They must be carefully designed and integrated into the service formula such that technology never causes then to lose sight of the human touch.  The hospitality business is about relationships.  It is personal.  Technology can help and serve as an enabler, but in the end, it is the people behind the technology that matter most in creating the experience and lasting impressions.

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