How a Boston fast casual increased sales via mobile payment app

Sept. 27, 2013 | by Cherryh Cansler

Two years ago, Boston-based Sebastians Café wanted to launch a loyalty program, but the hunt for the perfect platform ended with a leap into the mobile payments world. Mike Conley, marketing manager of the chain, said the fast casual restaurant first looked into traditional keychain and card-based loyalty programs but found they were too expensive and cumbersome.

"We were sure there was a more innovative option out there for us, and we realized mobile payment/loyalty would be a natural combination and the perfect way to offer our customers something convenient and set us apart from our competitors," he said.

The team found what it was looking for in LevelUp, a mobile payment platform that also provides customer data, loyalty campaigns and lower payment processing fees. In just one week, the money LevelUp brought in to one of Sebastians' five locations paid for the entire program, Conley said. And within 30 days, the restaurant saw a:

  • 30 percent increase in visit frequency by customers.
  • 7 percent increase in average sales.
  • 17 percent increase in total revenue.

"Consumers have embraced mobile technology, and it's important that retailers respond appropriately. At Sebastians, we decided being progressive with our offerings would be both a great way to differentiate ourselves from other cafes in the Boston area and to connect with consumers on a platform they're comfortable using," he said.

All about the branding

Sebastians opted to use LevelUp's white-label option, which allows businesses to use their own branding. The chain started with the company's general mobile payment app but upgraded to white label in order to better promote the brand.

"We knew immediately that a Sebastians-branded app would be a great way to continue to place our business at the forefront of innovation, so we decided to make the step from accepting the general LevelUp mobile payment app to building our own branded app on LevelUp's infrastructure," Conley said.

The branded app also appealed to Conley because it gives the restaurant the power to connect with their customers on a personal level, while staying true to the Sebastians brand. For example, as customers reach different levels of spending, their virtual salad bowls fill up, earning them statuses such as "fresh," "fresher" and "fresh-a-licious," all of which incorporate customized rewards.

"Additionally, we worked with LevelUp to add a variety of other branded features to the app, like a map of locations and a menu," Conley said. "As more and more businesses begin to offer existing mobile payment networks, having a branded payment app gives us a chance to further separate ourselves from the crowd.

The learning curve

Within the first 30 days, 20 percent of Sebastians customers were using the app to pay, and Conley expects that number to increase as more people get on board with paying with their phones. The app, he said, is incredibly intuitive, so teaching customers about it hasn't been a major issue. To make them aware of its existence, the company placed signage throughout all locations, added info about the app on the website and trained employees to encourage customers to use it.

"You simply download the app for free then scan, or input, your credit/debit card information. When you go to pay for your meal, you just scan your unique QR code on the app with the LevelUp scanner at checkout," he said.

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Topics: Online / Mobile / Social , Operations Management , Systems / Technology

Cherryh Cansler / Cherryh Cansler has been a reporter and editor for nearly 15 years, writing on a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining Networld Media Group as managing editor of Food/Retail Publications, she was content specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City and has served as editor for several publications. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.
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