Today’s mobile addiction has many restaurateurs up in arms.  USA Today reported that US chef R. J. Cooper branded mobiles at the table “one of the worst trends ever” because they distract customers and restaurant workers from the dining experience.

And French chef Alexandre Gauthier attempted to ban the use of mobiles at his restaurant, venting that food selfies infringed his copyright.    

But while cracking out your smartphone at the table  may be seen by some as a social faux pas, there’s a strong case for the defence of keeping mobiles on the menu.  Savvy restaurants know that smartphones connect them to their customers and that turning away mobiles like a diner without a reservation would be shutting the door in the face of a world of marketing opportunities.

Here’s four big reasons restaurant owners should be setting a place for mobiles on the dining table alongside the silverware and napkins:


Youth Appeal – attracting mobile savvy Millennials

Can you remember the last time you saw a teenager who wasn’t walking around with a phone plastered to the side of their face or their thumbs furiously tippy-tapping away in a social media frenzy?  No, I can’t either and that’s probably because smartphone adoption amongst this demographic has skyrocketed in recent years.

Clever operators can capitalise on this mobile-savvy demographic by appealing to their preference for mobile interaction.  By giving young customers a mobile platform to not only order and pay for goods but to interact and share their experiences with their friends, operators can attract and retain a whole section of society that might previously have been harder to connect with.


Social shout-outs

In stark contrast to Alexandre Gauthier’s somewhat draconian approach to food selfies, other operators are actively encouraging their customers to take photos of their food and drink and share them as well as check in to their venues on Facebook.  Many see this as free advertising and a means of amplifying marketing efforts through their customers’ numerous social networks.

Dunkin’ Donuts is just one of the many operators leveraging the selfie craze to incentivise their guests to interact with their brand.  Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica, says that customer-generated images have the potential to significantly improve brand advocacy and customer loyalty.  “By encouraging ‘foodstagramming’ and inviting guests to send images of themselves at your locations or at branded special events, you can elevate the quality of the customer experience, while making instant connections with your fans’ social followers,” he said.


Transform the guest experience

Losing your table because you’re ordering food and drinks at the bar is pretty painful. So is heartburn when you’re rushing to finish your meal at a packed restaurant because you’ve a flight to catch or a meeting to chair.   Operators can transform the dining experience of their guests by letting them order and pay for their meals using their mobile.  By transferring these kinds of transactions to mobile, guests no longer need to compete for wait staff attention or worry when they’ll be able to order or pay.  Customers won’t be the only ones to benefit as this sort of technology can also help restaurants streamline their operations and help staff focus on great customer service rather than preparing checks and handling cash.


Social security blanket

Did you know we’re eating alone more?  According to the Food Marketing Institute people eat nearly half of all their meals and snacks by themselves.  Did you also know that many people who eat alone “anticipate negative inferences from others about their social connectedness” – they worry people assume they couldn’t find any friends to accompany them.

If you’ve ever travelled solo for business, or happen to find yourself muttering “table for one” in hushed tones to the waiter for whatever reason, then you’ll probably have experienced the solace and comfort of whipping out your mobile phone the moment you’ve finished perusing the menu to nose around your news feed, read the actual news or kill a few minutes on Pinterest.  Many people use their phone as a sort of solo dining security blanket and let’s face it; it beats staring aimlessly around the restaurant feigning interested in the light fixtures.

At the end of the day, mobile phones have permeated our way of life and, like it or not, they’re here to stay.  Whether they’re used to freely promote your food or venue via selfies, call friends to join them for a meal or even to stop solo diners feeling less self-conscious, welcoming their use is really just good customer service.