By Larry Alton

In an ever-changing market, it’s hard for business owners to keep up with new trends and fussy customer spending habits. Restaurants may be affected by these fluctuations even more than other businesses because of changing prices of their supplies, the amount of customers that enter, and how much they are spending.

Because of economic issues, more potential patrons cook at home to save money instead of heading to a restaurant. However, technology and smartphones can help with the volatility of the restaurant market.

Here are four ways that restaurants can gear their marketing to smartphone users and stay afloat in volatile economic times.

1. LocalEats

This is an app that smaller restaurants can use. It’s available through iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. The app provides the location of the restaurant, category, price ranges, link to the website, description, and comments.

An update profile allows coupons or daily specials to be added to it for repeat business multiple times a week. The app also focuses on local businesses only versus national chains, to give local outlets the upper hand. Patrons may be attracted by more of a variety in the food they choose to come out for.

2. Urbanspoon

Being a part of this package can get your restaurant’s name out there, depending on the categories it falls into. The app gives users the ability to choose certain parameters, such as price or location, and spin through the choices like a virtual slot machine.

The information includes operating hours, reviews, and the ability to call the restaurant and locate it easily on a map.

3. FourSquare

This is not just an app for restaurants, but can be a good tool for them. FourSquare is a social media site that can be linked with other sites, such as Facebook, to show friends where you are and what you’re eating.

Searches can be done by location or type of restaurant a person is looking for. The customer can “check in” to the location. By checking in, customers let all their friends know where they are and can give a rating of the place. The business can encourage them by offering customers a deal for advertising the business.

Say, “10 percent off the bill for checking in on FourSquare and letting the wait staff know.”

4. YumTable

This one’s for Android and iPhone users. It’s a restaurant booking service for last-minute patrons that gives out deals in order to entice customers to fill empty seats.

Restaurants can be categorized by the active deals and location. They can also be determined by suburb, price range, type of food and the time the reservation is for. This can be great for restaurants to fill in leftover seats for their dining room, especially on a Friday or Saturday night when the deals for patrons can be reasonable, but still enable the establishment to make a profit.

Adding incentives to these sites can get more customers in the door and attract new customers, as well, who may come back to try a different dish with a different group of friends.

Potential problems with these sites may be to make sure there are expiration dates on the deals, a limit to the amount of people to be included, and that some deals may be better for first-time patrons. These apps can be beneficial in rethinking marketing plans for restaurants, but consideration needs to go to bringing in customers and making money simultaneously.

The goal of these apps should be to bring in new customers, keep the loyal ones, and maintain a positive word-of-mouth and social media presence.

Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter @LarryAlton3 and LinkedIn.