Mobile technology has drastically changed the way consumers interact with businesses – they shop, read reviews and share pictures of their purchases online. Customers are now accustomed to digital platforms that give them anytime, anywhere access to all of their favorite businesses and services.

The widespread impacts this trend hit the retail sector first. Through the booming ecommerce market, every step of the supply chain has had to adapt to the changes that online ordering has made to logistics teams and stores alike. For the past few years, these trends have been seeping into other industries. Restaurants in particular are starting to feel the effects of the order-anywhere expectations of today's diner.

With a wide array of third-party apps that aim to make dining easier for consumers, restaurateurs must decide if and how they will offer more of their services through mobile platforms to appeal to customers. 

"GrubHub alone now has 6.7 million active users."

The popularity of food delivery apps
Gone are the days when ordering delivery meant just placing a call for a pizza. Consumers today have access to delivery from nearly any style of cuisine from a variety of establishments, including businesses that were once dine-in only eateries. 

Delivery apps have simplified the process for diners who want to eat food from their favorite restaurants without leaving their homes. Consumers can load apps to see which restaurants in their area will deliver to their locations. They can even order and pay in the same window, making the process of receiving food no more involved than sending a text message. These programs can store customer profiles so that their addresses, payment options and favorite dishes can all be stored to make placing future orders even faster. Add in elements like exclusive coupon deals or loyalty programs that can lead to discounts, and many people are now exclusively placing orders on apps.

The prevalence of these apps, like Foodler or GrubHub, have made it easier than ever for customers to find the restaurants in their areas that will bring food right to their doors. Nation's Restaurant News reported that GrubHub alone now has 6.7 million active users connected to more than 40,000 restaurants. Businesses can reach new customers who can come across their food just by browsing the apps for a quick meal, or strengthen customer relationships with frequent patrons. 

For businesses that aren't listing their dishes on these platforms, however, the apps' popularity could mean they're missing out on sales. Diners are getting so used to the simplicity of these new order processes that they may choose a new restaurant if the one they wanted wasn't accessible from their favorite app. Unlisted businesses also miss out on new customers who just causally scroll through the programs to find something different to try. 

Finding deals and making reservations
The app revolution isn't limited to take out and delivery, however. Applications like OpenTable allow customers to place reservations at some of their favorite restaurants. Fast Casual listed this benefit as one of the top ways restaurants can take advantage of what mobile programs have to offer. Apps that allow diners to precheck a menu or find daily specials and deals can enhance the dining experience and help customers order faster, which can help businesses turn tables more efficiently to get more diners in. 

According to NDot​ Technologies, restaurant apps can help boost traffic on weekdays. Busy diners who don't have time to plan their meals on a weeknight can be drawn to the simple convenience of app ordering. Knowing how quick and streamlined the process will be inspires consumers to visit restaurants or place delivery orders when they're on the go. 

Convenience is one of the biggest perks today's diners want. Convenience is one of the biggest perks today's diners want.

How to make app partnerships work
The biggest concerns restaurateurs need to consider before joining one of these programs are cost and commitment. Businesses need to be sure that the partnership is profitable for them, and that if it isn't, they have a way to opt out of the deal. Crain's Chicago Business reported that some apps may take 20 or even 30 percent of a profit for delivered meals. For some businesses, that may not be enough to manage.

Restaurants also need to have the right technological equipment for working with these apps. For some, that could mean upgrading computers or investing in new software to make their programs compatible.

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.