Mobile App vs. Mobile Website: Which is Best for Restaurants?

If you talk to a restaurant owner about going mobile (assuming they understand how pressing it is that they get on the mobile bandwagon pronto!) often the question will arise, “Should I get a Mobile App or should I go with a Mobile Website.” Surprisingly, you will find some restaurant operators are not doing anything because they just don’t know which way to go. Let’s try to clear things up by first examining each one:

Mobile App

  • A software application on a mobile device
  • Found in app stores, not search results
  • Nifty tool but only for existing customers
  • Requires permission of provider to publish
  • Must be developed for each platform (separate app for iPhone, BB, Android, etc.)
  • User must upgrade to keep current
  • Some functionality without being online
  • Generally more expensive

Mobile Website

  • Website designed for a mobile browser
  • Comes up in search results
  • Can reach endless potential customers
  • No authorization required to publish
  • One site can be optimized for multiple platforms and thousands of devices
  • User always sees most up-to-date version
  • Requires user to be online
  • Usually less expensive


What is our take? The most benefit for a restaurant business is going to come from a mobile website. If you are still in doubt, it’s easy to form your own opinion by asking yourself a few questions: Is my goal to reach more customers and gain more market share? Do I want to create better experience for people coming to my website via the web browser on their phones? If those are your objectives, then a mobile website is the way to go. Even if you are a nationally known brand with locations all over the US, like Domino’s Pizza for example, we suggest implementing a mobi website first before even considering an app. Sure, apps are nifty to show off but if your basic needs are to publish mobi-friendly information (location information, menu, etc.) and allow customers to perform a few online functions like making reservations, ordering or performing social media check-ins, then save your app money for other marketing efforts but go get yourself a mobile website right now! After you have a solid mobile website in place and you find that you still want a mobi app, then by all means go for it if you have your other marketing priorities in check.

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Tags: mobile, websites


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Comment by David Bloom on February 2, 2012 at 3:19pm

I think apps are great when your user will have regular interaction with your content or service. Facebook, Gmail, Dropbox, Weather, Hootsuite, etc.  But how often does any patron need to review a specific menu online?  The cost of creating or deploying an app, and maintaining the data seem disproportionate to the customer utility.  For individual restaurants I rarely think apps are the way to go.  An optimized website accessible from search and referral sites like Yelp is almost always the best route.

Comment by Ivan Collins on February 2, 2012 at 6:37am

Nice post John.  We're seeing over 20% of users are accessing our restaurant sites via mobile apps now.   Mobile apps for individual resaturants are not likely to get downloaded or accessed enough to justify investing in one.  What you're didn't touch on in this post is the concept of FLUID DESIGN.  We've been making semi fluid sites for restaurants.  Fluid means they scale to fit all resolutions.  Take a look at this site we did for Corazon at Castle Hill on your mobile phone...looks pretty solid.  Then look at it on an Ipad and a 23" monitor with 1980x1080 resolution.  Looks about the same.  It scales to fit all resolutions.  That's the future of mobile sites...fluid design that changes shape for each resolution so it looks good no matter how you view it.

With that being said we've added all the information we need about clients in their venue profile that will enable us to do a script based mobile site that lays Reservation Genie information on top of their site like you see the guys at Live Bookings doing with their premium accounts.  That's also a quick fix if you use a service like that.

Comment by Nicki Laycoax on February 2, 2012 at 5:14am
We created a mobile website for Ike & Jonesy's in Indianapolis... (Just go to on your mobile device) They don't accept online orders or reservations, so what we did works great for them. The most important info for consumers- hours, menu, locations, and specials.. would love your feedback on it! We used My Mobi Manager.

Also, during Super Bowl traffic, we are up to around 40% mobile web traffic. It's pretty evident now that a mobile site is extremely important! @mymobimanager & @ikeandjonesys on Twitter
Comment by Magnus Hultberg on January 25, 2012 at 9:05am

Go for it Jon!

Comment by Chris Butler on January 25, 2012 at 6:53am

Jon, I would check it out. :)

Comment by Jon Rock on January 25, 2012 at 5:54am

You all just gave me a great idea for a blog. HTML5 vs. .mobi. Thank you!

Comment by Magnus Hultberg on January 25, 2012 at 2:26am

Love the comparison table in your post, spot on. I also do completely agree with Chris, it is far more important for restaurants to just get the basics of their "normal" website right. There is SO much improvements that could be done out there, and given a simple informative website built with only a hint of mobile in mind, a lot of birds are taken care of in one go.

Comment by Chris Butler on January 24, 2012 at 4:17pm

Jon, I would probably recommend those operators update their site anyways.

To create (or update a site) to be mobile friendly by today's standards just means you need to write HTML4/5 website. If the site is still using lots of flash or XHTML or some other super-old tech cruft it won't look very good on non-mobile, modern browser either.

As an aside, my advice to owners would be to make sure their site is focused on giving great information rather than mimicking the experience in the restaurant (lots of graphics, music, animation, etc.). If they don't have this today they are not doing a great service for their guests anyways.

The website will never be like the real experience so don't even try duplicate it on the site!

Comment by Steven Groves on January 24, 2012 at 11:05am

Great comment Jon and by far, I think a mobile website SHOULD be the choice vs. an app.  If you think of an app like the AOL ( and their CD's that would never go away), you quickly get why this phase of mobile apps will eventually give way to mobile-tailored websites.  I use a CSS plug in that automatically handles it for my blog and the differences between the website on a desktop / laptop and the mobile is just about right.

Comment by Jon Rock on January 24, 2012 at 9:57am

Chris, This is great info and one solution. Most of the sites I've dealt with are existing sites and the restaurant owners do not want to do a re-write as it can be costly. In this case, developing a mobi specific version and placing a snippet of redirect code on the main website does the trick. For those of use over 40 (hahaha) a mobi version is typically readable without the need to fish out those readers.




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