When Patrick Lee, owner and operator of the Grafton Group in Massachusetts, and his team of managers first dreamed up a tasting tour that would visit each of the group’s four properties, discussions persisted for months. The purpose of the tasting tour was to give guests a sample of each restaurant’s food and beverage, but the managers had much to decide: which dishes and drinks to feature, which day of the week to host the tour, and how many guests could be accommodated.

Finally, at one of the group meetings last year, a manager presented the idea of creating an app. An app, he said, could offer information about each concept in one place for customers to check out while they were on the tour. And thus, the idea for a Grafton Group app was born—out of “the serendipity of our own procrastination,” Lee says with a laugh.

Rather than add to one of the myriad of existing apps on the market, Grafton Group created its own app, using a simple platform that allowed executives to control the information presented on the app. Lee says the app is not meant to supplant reservation or review apps, but instead gives diners an insider’s look at each eatery while cluing them in to the goings-on of the local community, Harvard Square. By doing so, diners are continually checking in with the restaurant group, increasing engagement.

“We thought, this could be a place where diners can find current pictures of dishes, get a synopsis of each of our properties, and make reservations—all in one place,” Lee says.

The group, which includes Grafton Street, Russell House Tavern, Temple Bar, and Park Restaurant & Bar in the Harvard Square area of Cambridge, Massachusetts, then entered into a six-month development stage using Mobile Roadie, an app-creation platform, to develop an app that highlighted each of the properties. The group used a basic subscription that costs just over $100 a month, and it finally debuted the app on April 5.

Lee says that while the team brainstormed and worked on development, he was cautious of adding features that other companies already provide. “Our app was certainly not meant to be a replacement for something like OpenTable,” he says. “It’s really meant as a resource for our restaurants and Harvard Square.”

To that end, the Grafton Group app features a list of cultural events going on in the restaurants’ neighborhood of Harvard Square for tourists and locals alike. Lee has found that this feature has also allowed the group to connect with other businesses in the community.

While a direct correlation between the app and the bottom line cannot be drawn, Lee says the app pays for itself in other ways: “It’s a fun way to connect with our community and guests on a deeper level with a relatively low barrier to entry.”

For Lee, one of the most surprising—and rewarding—results of launching the app has been watching staff members at the restaurants engage with the app themselves. “Some of our staff have shown guests how to use the app at their tables,” he says, adding that the app also features staff stories and pictures, a subtle method of showing employee appreciation.

Feature, Technology