The UK’s Best Restaurant and Café iOS Apps Rated

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As each month goes by smartphone users find themselves using their mobile devices for more and more things above and beyond sending emails and looking up directions. Now many users – especially ones in their 30s and below – use their smartphone to conduct banking transactions, check their utility consumptions, and, when available, make mobile payments at restaurants and cafes through dedicated applications.

Matter of fact some recent studies suggest that persons in their 20s and 30s are five times more likely to frequent a restaurant or cafe if the company offers a good app experience. Starbucks acknowledged as much last week when it introduced a completely revamped Starbucks app that allows customers to not only pay for drinks via the app, but tip the baristas as well.

With that in mind, we’ve rated the UK’s top eleven restaurant and cafe apps from best to worst. Who’s at the top of their game and who needs to step up if they want to keep mobile customers happy? Read on.

Level: Amazing

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Starbucks

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It should come as little surprise that Starbucks offers perhaps the best mobile app experience in the restaurant and cafe category. The new app is simply stunning with a beautiful new minimalist UI, and a host of payment and loyalty features.

It’s those payment and loyalty features that most mobile users want an app, which is why Starbucks is so good. You can literally walk into a Starbucks with no wallet or loyalty card and order your drink, pay for it in the app, and even get reward points credited to your account right in the app – no silly stamp card needed. Another plus is Starbucks now allows you to redeem free drinks right from the app as soon as you earn enough points. 

Starbucks also gets major props for integrating with core iOS features, like Passbook, which allows you to pull up your Starbucks gift cards and loyalty card from one handy place on your iPhone. Another nice feature? You can now tip your barista up to two hours after you’ve made your purchase. 

I actually don’t like Starbucks for a number of reasons (hello UK tax avoidance!), but the UK-based coffee chains (ahem, Costa, Caffe Nero) could learn a thing or two from the American giant on the app front. 

Five Guys UK 

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Five Guys is another US import that’s recently set up shop in the UK. Their burgers will give you a heart attack, but they taste great and their app is just as good. With it you can order your food ahead of time, customizing over a dozen toppings for every burger you order. When you get to the store you can skip the (very, very long) lines and simply go up to the counter and grab your waiting food. Like Starbucks, Five Guys UK also allows you to pay from right within the app.

Level: Great

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Chipotle

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If you haven’t been to Chipotle yet, finish reading this article and then drop everything and go. Chipotle serves burritos the size of your head – and I guarantee you you’ve never tasted anything so good. They call their hand-made guacamole “green gold” for a reason. The Chipotle app lives up to the quality of their food as well. 

Chipotle’s app is as good as Five Guy’s when it comes to ordering your food. Use the app to customize your burritos before you even get to the store. Once there, skip the line and pay for your waiting food via credit card or gift card right inside the app. Another really nice feature is the app’s ability to show you the total nutrition content of your food – something that may come as a shock when you see the average burrito has over 1000 calories. 

Pizza Express

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Pizza Express is the first homegrown restaurant on this list and it deserves its top placement. The app allows you to book a table at any Pizza Express. Once inside the restaurant, and after you’ve eaten, you don’t even need to wait for your waiter to bring you the bill. Simply launch the app and pay via PayPal, credit, or debit card. The app also allows you to download store-specific coupons for the location of your choice, meaning it actually helps lower your pizza bill. Finally, you can also order takeaway right from within the app – something that’s much less of a hassle than ordering over the phone. 

Level: Pretty Freaking Good

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Domino’s Pizza 

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On the low-end pizza side of things, Domino’s app rules the market. The app allows you to quickly find your nearest branch and order any number of pre-built offerings, or gives you the ability to completely customize you own pizza. When you’re done, select your sides and pay via the app. It’s simple, fast, and saves you from having to call in your order or mess around with the desktop ordering system.

Subway

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The home of the footling sub has a pretty decent app. Though it lacks the ability to pay via in-app transactions, it gets major points for its loyalty card features. Not only does the app keep track of your SUBCARD points each time you order food, it does so in an easy to view and easy to understand way. 

The app offers a complete view of your transaction history, showing how many points you earned for every individual meal. It also gets major props for showing you what you can redeem points for. Best of all, the app supports Passbook, so you can simply pull up your SUBCARD quickly and have the Sandwich Artist behind the counter scan its barcode when you are checking out.

Level: So-So

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Nando’s

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Who doesn’t love a little Peri-Peri Chicken from time to time? Representing the Portuguese contingent is the Nando’s app. It’s at this level where restaurant and cafe apps go from “pretty freaking good” to “so-so”. That’s mainly because apps at or below this level don’t offer the ability to pay in-app AND/OR offer a loyalty rewards program that supports Passbook. The Nando’s app does allow you to see and track your loyalty points, but the lack of Passbook support keeps it from the level of which the Subway app is at. 

Pret

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Pret is actually one of my favorite places to grab a quick bite, and their app is decent enough too. It lets you find your local Pret, view walking or driving directions, and see the opening and closing times.

The app also gets points for allowing you to look up the nutrition content of any of the food the store sells. A really nice feature is the ability to exclude foods based on their ingredients (such as pine nuts). While Pret doesn’t offer a loyalty program (a shame) the app could be better if the company would allow for mobile payments via it.

McDonald’s UK

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While the McDonald’s UK app isn’t going to win any originality awards, it does offer fans of the chain most of what they would need in an app: the ability to find the closest McD’s, a complete list of menu items with nutrition information, and the ability to create and save meal combinations.

A nice feature is the ability to look up McDonald’s locations via filtering the amenities the user wants, such as drive thru, open 24/7, accessibility, baby changing, birthday parties, free Wi-Fi, play place, favourite restaurants and open right now.

GBK

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Gourmet Burger Kitchen has taken the unusual step of game-ifying their app experience. Every time a user orders food at one of GBK’s restaurants, they earn badges, much like users of FourSquare do. The badges unlock voucher codes that earn you free extras, like sauces, or even vouchers worth up to £100 of GBK food if you eat at the chain more than anyone else in a single month. (If you do that, btw, please drop us a line).

Level: Try Again Next Time 

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Costa Coffee Club

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I actually like Costa a lot. I think they have better coffee than Starbucks. The problem is their app is just no good. Sure, it allows you to find stores and track your Coffee Club points, but it does this in a frustrating way. That’s because in order to earn loyalty points you still need to present your physical loyalty card each time you make a purchase. Who likes carrying around physical loyalty cards anymore? That’s right, no one.

Once you present your loyalty card, the app acts as a viewer that allows you to see how much you’ve earned and what you can redeem your points for. However, in order to redeem your points you still need to present your physical card. It’s a shame the app can’t do away with the physical card, because that’s what users – including myself – want. 

KFC Finder UK

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After reading the reviews of this app, a better name for it might be “KFC UnFinder UK.” That’s because many people report that the app, which solely allows customers to find KFC stores, has taken them to stores which have closed down or moved a long time ago. When your app’s only job is to get customers to your stores and it can’t do that with 100% accuracy then your app has failed, which is why it’s made the bottom of this list.

Have a favorite UK restaurant or cafe app that didn’t make this list? Let us know in the comments.

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