At Snarf’s Sub Shop in Boulder, Colorado, the line of customers is out the door for the restaurant’s popular line of hot submarine sandwiches. But if you observe closely, some customers walk right past the line, sidle up to the side counter, and walk away with lunch in hand, never having waited for any part of their transaction. What gives? The sub shop has partnered up with local mobile app developer Splick-It to offer its customers a free, custom-branded mobile ordering application to deliver not only mobile, hassle-free ordering and payment options but also special offers, loyalty points, and their order history.
This is not just a local phenomenon, however. Mobile ordering is one of the hottest new applications in the fast food market and hundreds of fast food giants are scrambling to build and launch mobile apps with ordering features to speed up waiting times. Let’s take a look at how it’s working out for the bigger companies.
Skip the Lines at Starbuck’s
The Seattle-based coffee company is infamous for its long lines, both inside its retail operations and in its drive-up stations. But the company’s new app, Mobile Order & Pay, is being tested in Portland, Oregon and is expected to expand soon to the majority of the Pacific Northwest.
"Mobile, in many ways, is the future of the fast-food industry," says Sam Oches, editor of the trade publication QSR Magazine in this USA Today feature. "Fast food is all about speed and convenience, and mobile ordering, in many ways, makes the fast-food experience faster and more convenient."
McDonald’s might have been late to the mobile ordering game but they’re closing in fast and they’re offering to sweeten the deal. In promoting its new app for Apple’s iOS and Android, they’re offering customers a free sandwich with any purchase for those that download the free app. What will be interesting here is to see if the phenomenon of mobile ordering at restaurants that have typically delivered food fast anyway begins to change the layout of restaurants to include more drive-up windows, more efficient restaurant layouts, or more optimal inventory control systems.
Square Offers Vertical Integration
Not all mobile apps are affiliated with big chain restaurants. The financial services provider Square recently launched its new app, Caviar, with service in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, and Washington, D.C. The company is differentiating its service with the novel concept of offering delivery service from restaurants that don’t have a delivery service. In essence, the company is integrating delivery infrastructure as well as mobile ordering and payment. This also gives the company an edge in being able to focus on high-end, exclusive restaurants like David Chang’s famous Momofuku family of restaurants in New York City.
In short, it’s looking like mobile ordering from restaurants is here to stay, and any new technologies that help make restaurants more efficient, create a better experience for customers, and don’t make foodies stand in line is likely to remain popular for years to come.