How to use augmented reality to engage your customers

As if real life weren’t complicated enough, now you can’t walk down the street without running into some virtual Pokémon character evading capture from a swarm of smartphone-aholics

Augmented reality existed long before Pokémon Go disrupted the marketplace, but there’s no question that the app’s widespread appeal and meteoritic rise to becoming the most engaging space on mobile devices has caught the eyes of marketers and business owners across the world.

And while there are plenty of opportunities within the Pokémon Go world for restaurateurs to capitalize on, I think it important to remember that there is a great big, wide (albeit, augmented) world out there, beyond those little pocket monsters.

Riding the wave of cultural trends like Pokémon can offer your restaurant huge returns for a confined period of time. But the most successful marketers look at the bigger picture – the technology itself – to develop a long-term, and adaptable plan for how to engage customers who like to walk through this world with a dash of virtual reality seamlessly integrated.

Using augmented reality to enhance the on-site experience

While the quality of your food heavily influences your customer base and retention, the atmosphere your restaurant presents is just as important. Going out to eat is a full-sensory experience. From the music you play to the decorations on the wall and the personalities of your staff, make no mistake: each and every day you’re putting on a show.

So, how do you make your show stand out?

Use augmented reality to deliver information to your users in a language they understand – their smartphones.

Take, for example, what many museums have begun to do:

Museum visitors who download an app can point their device’s camera to works of art to unlock recorded information about the piece, bits of trivia, as well as interactive games.

Your restaurant can follow this same approach in a myriad of ways:

  • Menus – Menus are so 20th century, aren’t they? Let’s give them a little modern boost. With the use of AR, you can embed additional information about your menu items including, for example, a 360° image of the dish; additional nutritional facts; a video recorded by your chef talking about how that unique dish came to life; pairing recommendations (such as a specific drink or dessert).
  • Décor – While your walls may not be adorned with Picassos, you can still use AR in the same way that museums and Pokémon Go do. Let’s say, for example, that you have photos of sports teams your restaurant sponsors. Why not embed little trivia bits about these teams within each photo? Or, send users to the team’s website or Facebook page (it shows your support for your community). You can even create your own scavenger hunt throughout your restaurant to keep the kids entertained.
  • On silverware – If you can pull this one off, let us know. We’d love to see it in action. This would be great for kids but fun for anyone. Turn your forks and spoons into characters! Make them react based on actions. Imagining that you can make a little character scream as he’s plunged into a heap of mashed potatoes. Children will dub your place as their favorite restaurant, and parents, as you know, are at the will of their kids.
  • Placemats – Some restaurants have coloring sheets for kids to play with to occupy that lull before the meals are delivered. While that approach is still effective, you can make your restaurant stand out by using AR instead. For example, it takes little effort or technology to embed an augmented character on a placemat for kids to color. While the kids are busy with their crayons, the adults can use AR on their mats to scope out the latest news online, or events in the area.
  • Partnerships – Consider partnering with another business when using AR at your restaurant. You could, for example, create an interactive coffee mug that, when scanned, gives users the chance to win a trip to Costa Rica (where your coffee beans come from) courtesy of a local travel agent.

I’m not one to encourage restauranteurs to jump on every single bandwagon that comes their way. However, unlike individual games (like Pokémon Go) which will have a much shorter lifespan, when you build a strategy around an entire technology, you’re far more likely to enjoy a greater return for the long run.

By implementing any one (or all) of these augmented opportunities, you could surprise and delight your patrons, while you build your loyal following.

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