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Abby Francis -

How can restaurant brands make the most of the rise in smartphone use?

There was once a time when having a phone out at the dinner table was frowned upon. But, with the majority of us now owning one, they are rarely out of our hands.

18% of Brits admit to checking their phone three or more times during a meal at a full service casual restaurant.

72% of people think technology has the potential to play a bigger role in restaurants than it does today 1, so how can restaurants benefit from the rise of smartphones? With so much discussion about eating out appearing online every day, brands can benefit from spending time analysing the conversation, and identifying what exactly their visitors want from their favourite foodie haunts.

As one such example, dietary preference has been identified as a key theme online, with gluten free and vegan/vegetarian diets being discussed regularly. #glutenfree and #vegan are both among the top 16 most mentioned hashtags within eating out conversation on Twitter. Restaurants can capitalise on these themes by incorporating more specialised dietary dishes into existing menus to help appease a large demographic who currently struggle to eat out.

Top Hashtags Mentions Retweets Total Mentions
#food 596 184 780
#breakfast 558 120 678
#dinner 465 72 537
#restaurants 398 43 441
#london 275 160 435
#lunch 304 97 401
#glutenfree 183 160 343
#brighton 155 160 315
#family 262 25 287
#love 268 17 285
#friends 243 29 272
#selfie 229 19 248
#restaurant 137 111 248
#vegan 154 89 243
#foodie 151 71 222
#100happydays 216 5 221

You can find out more about smartphones and the restaurant service here.

93% of UK adults own or use a mobile phone, and 72% have at least one social media profile.

Restaurants are able to ensure they are part of the online conversation themselves, encouraging visitors to use phones to their benefit. Including hashtags on the menu, along with the restaurant’s social media handles to encourage mobile phone users to post can raise awareness of the brand and increase online engagement. Even including a call to action should encourage visitors to post more, and will help keep online conversation about the brand both consistent and positive.

Twitter is the go-to app for sharing content on our smartphone; it claims a 63% share-of-voice for conversations relating to eating out.

Mobiles industry report

Brunch has been identified as the meal of the day which is currently mentioned the least by online users. There is an opportunity for restaurants to grow appeal and engagement around this mealtime via dedicated brunch menus and promotions, to encourage visitors to post about their brunch experience. A few forward-thinking restaurants are beginning to do with bottomless brunches, which are growing in popularity across the UK.

With Apple Pay and Android Pay becoming more and more available across a number of locations, restaurants who offer the option to pay a bill this way are not only saving valuable time, but also showing a willingness to adapt to new technologies. 43% of people like the idea of paying for a meal with their smartphone; showing that the consumer willingness is there.

Finally, making a restaurant photo-friendly is key. With visitors becoming more snap-happy by the minute (17% share their restaurant experience on social with a photo), tapping into this trend and making it easy and appealing to take a photo of a meal could actively drive business. Restaurants seeking positive mentions need to give diners something they want to shout about!

“Mobile has continued to grow across many different fields, but the restaurant industry is in particular has seen a massive impact. From checking in to restaurants to sharing pictures of food, phones are involved in every step of the eating-out process.”

Matt (CEO of discount dining club, tastecard)

Mobiles industry report

“Eating is one thing that everyone has in common, and taking photo of amazing food is so appealing – particularly as the world is broadening its taste, and people are trying dishes that they haven’t tried before.”

Andre (Head of Digital and Loyalty at Wagamama)

Case study of technology use in restaurants - Noel Hunwick, Marketing Director at London based inamo:

My business partner Danny and I happened to sit next to each other at a friend’s birthday in a restaurant 11 years ago, and were really struggling to catch a waiter’s attention for another drink, or to get the bill. We wanted to buy more and give the establishment our money but they weren’t letting us. Danny already had in mind ways of integrating technology seamlessly into the dining experience, and we brainstormed it at the time and from that point on worked on it together. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to reach down, touch the table, and another drink would arrive, and be able to request the bill when you’re ready to leave.” We were very aware from the start, however, that the food is king in any restaurant, and that it was key to get this right.

We wanted to give guests control, and so from this initial concept Danny and I created the E-Table™ technology ourselves, having founded the company in late 2005. We opened inamo ( in 2008 to prove our concept, and our own second restaurant inamo St James in December 2010, which relocated to Covent Garden in January 2016. We are scheduled to open inamo Camden in November 2016.

At inamo, Soho each guest uses a touch sensitive panel to interact with our system, which is projected from above onto their table surface. Order when you want, get your bill when you want, and call a waiter at the touch of a button, but the human element is very much still present. Guests can see a tasteful image of the dish/drink item they’re considering projected onto the plate in front of them, with a price and description to the right. They can then decide to add it to their order, and whenever they’re ready can send that directly off to the kitchen/bar to be prepared.

At inamo Covent Garden we’ve introduced a tablet based version of our ordering system (which will soon synchronise with the ability to order on-table too) and a productised version of our projection based table system that can be retro-fitted into existing spaces more easily and affordably and features increased animation. This will be the case for inamo Camden too.

When we began work on our technology for inamo Soho in 2005 smart phones and tablets had not yet been developed. The tech we use there we created bespoke in-house. Unfortunately, this is very challenging to update and it’s much simpler to add new features to the on-table projections now (we already have chef-cam, your choice of patterns and images as a “virtual-tablecloth”, animations of our inamo characters ‘the inamob’, games (including pong and memory), and will soon have the ability to personalise the images on your tables in advance, see what music is playing (with its artwork).We intend to create a much more flexible interactive ordering and entertainment system that we can regularly update and develop with new features in a way that is not possible with our original system.

The restaurants have performed very well, and received favourable reviews such as:

1. ‘from the interactive menu to delicious sushi, this is Asian fun at your fingertips’ Jay Rayner – The Observer

2. ‘for a magical moment, it feels like a futuristic dining utopia’ – The Independent

Plus, we were awarded TimeOut London Restaurant of the year in 2010 as voted by readers of TimeOut.

inamo Soho has now been open for eight years, which for a London restaurant reflects its success and the positive guest reaction to our concept. We’ve had over ¾ of a million diners through our restaurants, which shows that guests enjoy the restaurants and regularly return.

Resturant Selfie


1-) Tastecard data - 10 years