Fast-food chains are hoping to sell more, faster, by harnessing smartphones, GPS, and other technology using the mobile apps.
For nearly every aspect of our lives, from the boardroom to the dressing room to the bedroom, there’s an app for that—no matter what “that” may be. Mobile technology is pervasive, and its impact is being felt at the drive-through too. Shouting your burger order into a lousy speaker may soon be supplanted by smartphone apps—and some are hoping the shift could help drive new growth in the struggling fast-food industry.
As an app developer might say, the drive-through is ripe for disruption. With the lengthy menus of fast-food chains—a little something for everyone—the speed of service is “plateauing, even slowing down, as menu items became more complex,” according to a new report on the state of the drive-through, published by QSR, an industry publication.
“What we learned long ago was that the biggest pain point in the drive-through experience is actually placing the order,” Taco Bell’s chief operating officer Mike Grams told QSR. “The stress of finding it on the menu board or remembering what your friend told you that they wanted from Taco Bell is a huge piece to the consumer that we can relieve with mobile ordering. So our ability to get that out to market and have consumers go through our drive-through, place their order in advance, and simply roll through and pick it up is pretty cool.”
“Mobile will change drive-through,” he added. “No doubt.”
Chains like McDonald’s and Burger King have had mobile apps for years, but those applications may soon allow users to place orders ahead of time for quicker service. Dunkin’ Donuts was one of the first to add mobile payments to its app in 2012. Taco Bell will soon add mobile ordering to its existing app as well, allowing customers to perhaps get that Chicken Cantina Power Bowl a little more quickly than if they were yelling at a squawking speaking box.
According to The Washington Post, Taco Bell’s app “reportedly includes a feature that uses your phone’s GPS to tell how close you are to the pickup location and when the restaurant should start cooking,” making it perhaps the most zietgeist-y and troubling of the bunch.
Earlier this year, Starbucks admitted its mobile payment application—the most-used payment app in the United States—was “theoretically vulnerable” to massive data breaches. The media backlash that ensued forced the coffee company to issue a speedy update to the app. With GPS coming into the mix, the security concerns only mount. Do we really need to have a satellite tracking our location while we go to pick up a couple of late-night seven-layer burritos?
But Hanna Saltzman of Corporate Accountability International wonders if the overall turn to digital marketing by fast-food corporations—with both beefed-up websites and applications—is not just another way to market junk food to kids. Her concerns have precedent. In 2012, McDonald’s was forced to change a controversial “Refer-a-Friend” feature on its children’s website, HappyMeal.com, after the company was found to be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Even now, Saltzman says the site and app still contain games where unlocking new levels requires making fast-food purchases.
“More and more kids are spending a lot of screen time on phones and iPads and computers. Corporations like McDonald’s are seeing this increased screen time to reach these kids when their parents aren’t around, undermining parental authority,” says Saltzman, who leads the Value the Meal campaign, which pressures fast-food chains to stop marketing to children. “It’s pretty predatory, the activity in the digital sphere.”
Read how Mobien is helping its customers for consumer engagement using mobile apps here.