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Bill Trifiro is helping local eateries catch up with the big chains with custom smartphone apps, first to be served, downtown's Lucky.
KYLE GREEN | The Roanoke Times
Bill Trifiro, of Roanoke, is hoping he can capitalize on this trend and make a living selling customized smartphone apps to local restaurants.
KYLE GREEN | The Roanoke Times
Lucky’s app works on all platforms, and allows users to make reservations, peruse the menu, place to-go orders or place advance dine-in orders.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
It wasn’t long ago that the word “app” meant something entirely different in the restaurant world.
“Let’s order some apps before our entrees,” one might say, or “Could you bring us some app plates, please?”
Now, millions of people turn to “apps,” or application software, on their smartphones to help inform their decisions about dining out.
According to the online industry magazine FastCasual.com, an April study of smartphone users found that 81 percent had searched for a restaurant on their smartphone in the past six months and 80 percent believe it is important to look at a restaurant menu before dining there.
In a far less scientific poll on my blog at roanoke.com, 60 percent of 40 responders said they have used restaurant apps on their phones.
Clearly, it would be prudent for restaurant owners to consider the effect of smartphone apps on their businesses.
One man, Bill Trifiro of Roanoke, is hoping he can capitalize on this trend and make a living selling customized smartphone apps to local restaurants. He is so excited about apps that he built one for his upcoming wedding.
“Every major chain has an app,” Trifiro said. “But there’s no reason smaller restaurants shouldn’t be able to afford to do this.”
Hungry for apps
Smartphone users looking for dining and restaurant apps have plenty to choose from these days.
Among the many popular ones are Open Table, which allows customers to make reservations at participating restaurants; Urbanspoon and Yelp, both of which allow users to see neighborhood restaurants and reviews; Foodspotting, which browses photographs of restaurant dishes people have uploaded; and Veg Out, which locates vegetarian restaurants.
But all apps have their drawbacks. For example, many customers don’t realize that Open Table charges participating restaurants to accept reservations for them — that’s why the selection is not comprehensive.
A custom application puts more power in the restaurant owners’ hands. They can specify which features to have, sync the app with their point-of-sale system, and even update the content themselves. Many chains — including Chipotle, McDonald’s, Applebee’s, Cheddar’s Casual Cafe and Krispy Kreme — have opted to have custom apps.
The first local restaurant that has hired Trifiro to build an app is Lucky, located on Luck Avenue in downtown Roanoke. Hunter Johnson and J.P. Powell met Trifiro when he dined at their restaurant with his fiancee. He later offered the marketing services of his new company, Trisvara, including the custom app.
“When he came up with the app idea, it was something we were completely open to,” said Johnson. “People are attached to their phones these days.”
Lucky’s app, which had a soft launch Monday and works on all platforms, allows users to make reservations, peruse the menu, place to-go orders or place advance dine-in orders.
Orders are sent automatically to the restaurant, where they’re printed out. In the future, Lucky could choose other options, including allowing users to pay through the app or having orders emailed to the restaurant.
Best of all, Lucky employees can quickly and easily update the menu themselves on a daily basis, an important factor for restaurants that change the menu every day.
“If someone has a favorite dish they could go on and see if we have it,” Johnson said. “The interface that you use to change it is super simple.”
‘Level the playing field’
Mike Ahuero, who owns Viva la Cupcake in Grandin Village with his wife, Pennie, said he’s been “kicking around the idea” of an app for about a year, but he wasn’t sure where to begin.
“Truthfully, I was concerned about the cost,” he said. “Because basically, an app is just a website, it’s just a platform for a website, and some of these places that build websites, it’s two or three thousand dollars.”
Trisvara charges an up-front fee for design and implementation that ranges from $250 to $500. After that, customers pay a monthly fee of $50 to $100, which allows them a certain number of “credits.” A credit may consist of a reservation or a food order. Like a cellphone plan, customers can change their plan if they find it doesn’t suit their needs.
Ahuero said he may purchase an app that will allow customers to check daily cupcake flavors, place orders, arrange delivery and set up consultations for weddings and other catered events. He said they would also likely do direct marketing, placing flyers in places like hospitals and college campuses that will include a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone to access the app.
Trifiro said he hopes to eventually offer his services to all kinds of small business owners, and he isn’t worried about competition because he’s confident in his business model. He said he prefers to deal with small, local businesses and is talking to several dozen restaurant owners at this time.
“Any small pizza place, this will give them the functionality of Domino’s and that’s the goal — to level the playing field,” he said.
Johnson and Ahuero both appreciate the fact that they can now deal with a local business for their app-building needs.
“He’s kind of catering to folks like Pennie and I,” Ahuero said. “We don’t have the resources to reach out, and it’s nice to pick up the phone and have somebody there in 15 minutes.”
On the blog
Cinco de Mayo Festival Saturday in downtown Roanoke. Details at blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet.
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