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An intro to mobile strategy for hospitality operators

Going mobile can unlock a wealth of potential for your hospitality business– from an increase in bookings to easier processing of payments. The millennial customer likes to be able to engage with a brand long before stepping in the front door. They expect a digital option and want speed, convenience and a seamless experience – everything a well-developed app can offer.

From a bottom-line perspective, building an order and pay component into your restaurant’s application has the potential to increase average transaction value by 20% as well as boosting loyalty and repeat visits. At Starbucks, mobile app users are spending three times as much as those who don’t use the coffee chain’s app, while at Taco Bell, mobile app users are spending 30% more than other customers.

The decision to go mobile is a no-brainer for many hospitality operators, but the next part of the process – deciding on what kind of approach best suits your needs – requires careful thought. There are many options to consider: white label native apps, custom-built native apps, software development kits (SDKs), progressive web apps (PWAs) and so on. But what’s the difference? What are the benefits and limitations of each? And ultimately, what is the best fit for your brand?

Native white label apps

Native apps are developed specifically for one mobile platform (typically Android or iOS). A white label app is one that has been built using a template. White label apps can be customized with company logos, fonts, colours, and menu/service information but the app’s core features, functions and layout are locked down. Benefits include:

Tried and tested

White label applications utilise tried and tested engineering. They have already been used by multiple businesses and any usability issues have already been ironed out to ensure a consistently high user experience.

Faster and more cost-effective

White label apps cost less to build and are quick to deploy. As the template is already created, it’s less work for the developer. Costs incurred typically include the cost to build out each native application (Android and iOS), deployment and a monthly service charge.

Using white label technology you can have your own managed application developed and deployed in three months to a year for around $15,000. If you’re looking for a fast, economical build, white label is the route for you.

Outsourced management

With a white label app, you hand the management of the app over to the developer in return for a monthly fee. This is attractive to companies that don’t want the hassle of managing in-house and prefer to leave it to the professionals.

  • Restricted design and functionality. White label apps are locked down. You can brand them with your logo and colour palette but, as they are template-based, they can be relatively limited in terms of flexible functionality.
  • No ownership. White label apps are owned and managed by the developer. Think of them as a rental. This comes with its advantages – such as less overhead – but also means you are dependent on the developer to deliver.
Custom-built native apps

A custom-built native app is exactly as it sounds. Build a native app from scratch and get it exactly as you like it, maintaining full ownership of the IP.

You built it, you own it

With full ownership of the app you control the code – no waiting on external parties to take action and no restrictions as to what you can and can’t do design and functionality-wise.

Have it your way

Ensure consistent branding across all your channels with a bespoke application that stands out from your competitors. There are no limits as to what functionality you can offer or systems you can integrate with using a custom-built app, so long as you have the resources to do so.

Keep it in-house

With a custom-built app you will need to hire your own engineers to manage the product. Having your own engineering team on-site means you have more control over the environment and bugs can be resolved quicker.

  • A custom-built app can cost anywhere from $20,000 and up. Additional costs include putting the application into the relevant app stores and ensuring app store optimization, as well as in-house resource to manage the system.
  • You may have to return to your developer and ask them to upgrade your applications every time operating systems are updated.
SDK/APK – the half-way house?

An SDK (as it is called on iOS) or APK (as per Android) is a list of application calls (APIs) that can be embedded into your own user interface. Essentially, the developer provides the engine, and you provide the shell. This approach can also be used to link into existing applications, meaning you can build new functionality into an existing app. For many brands, using an SDK/APK is an attractive half way house between white label and custom-built and is the perfect option for companies that already have their own application and have the resource and talent in-house to build out an engaging UI.

Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are online applications accessible via a URL. They offer a similar UI and UX to native apps but without the separate build-out costs for Android and iOS. Users can access and bookmark the application regardless of what device they are using, meaning only one product needs to be built and initial development costs are halved. Other benefits include:

Cheaper upkeep

As well as costing half as much to develop, web apps are cheaper to maintain as there are no native software upgrades to stay on top of.

Less friction, higher frequency of use

Native apps, though perceived to be a ‘must have’, are often not very sticky. A quarter of apps get used once in the first six months of ownership and two thirds of apps fail to make 1000 users in the first year.

PWAs offer the same experience as native apps but with less friction for the end user. Customers don’t have to input their details, download the app from the app store and use up valuable real estate on their phones. With less friction comes greater rates of adoption and more widespread use.


By focusing on a lower-friction approach for users, deploying a PWA may offer fewer opportunities to harness big data. There are still options for gathering customer information, but you should consider  the benefit of a providing a better user experience instead of focusing on capturing data.

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