Ordering food online is not a foreign concept to me – I've ordered pizza delivery à la Sandra Bullock in The Net and I've used the Seamless app on occasion. A phone call and a web interface are nearly the same when the end result is food delivery coupled with payment via credit card.
So when my friend Ryan mentioned that Chick-Fil-A had an app, but would not be entering the delivery business, I was confused, skeptical, and intrigued.
Chick-fil-a has an app that lets you order & pay for food with via mobile. Is this ridiculous or ingenious for a non-delivery chain?
— Ryan Dean (@progendev) October 29, 2014
In the course of the ensuing conversation, I learned that CFA was not alone: many other non-delivery fast food chains have apps. And Taco Bell became the latest newcomer with their app release yesterday.
After reading about Taco Bell's app concept, I knew I had to give it a whirl. Having not been to a Taco Bell in ages (probably at least a decade), I had even more reason to anticipate the experience: I could finally try the Doritos Locos tacos.
Using the app is a breeze. You have the option of logging in with a new account or connecting to Facebook, but unlike most services, you can also use the app as a "guest," saving no preferences, no favorites, and no payment data. This is a welcome option, and I was happy to use it.
After tapping "guest," I was immediately brought to a screen with a few menu sections: Breakfast (apparently this is a thing Taco Bell now offers), Tacos, Burritos, something called "Cantina Power," etc. I tapped "Tacos" and found myself on a screen with a map of Manhattan, showing me the nearby Taco Bell locations.
I tapped the closest one and was greeted by an unpleasant message: "This location does not offer mobile ordering." I tried the next one and received the same message. Hoping I wasn't doomed to end this experiment prematurely, I tried the last option within a reasonable distance and was rewarded! The taco menu appeared.
Essentially, the menu is a mobile version of the Jack in the Box kiosk I once encountered midway on a trip to San Antonio. You can customize every part of your order – more meat, more sour cream, more tomatoes, pico de gallo instead of cheese, etc. The options are nearly limitless!
I ordered three tacos: Cool Ranch, Nacho Cheese, and "Fiery." All supreme. And, in a nod to my childhood, I also ordered Cinnamon Twists. I put my credit card info in (three supreme tacos and cinnamon twists run you $10.32, which is a stupidly low price and a pretty solid indicator of why obesity is so rampant in this country) and was greeted by a friendly message telling me my food would not be prepared until I was close to the "restaurant."
I left the bar a short time later, hopped on a subway, and as I got off, my phone buzzed. An indication from the app told me that I was within 500 feet and asked if they should prepare my order. I tapped "take out" and a minute later, walked in the door. Ten seconds after finding the "mobile app pickup line" (which consisted of me), I was handed two bags, containing my full order. No receipt – that was emailed to me. Almost no human interaction – just a confirmation that I was indeed the techno-futurist simultaneously ordering food online and hastening the obsolescence of the man handing me the bags.
The tacos themselves were as I'd expect: freaking delicious but basically the worst things I've eaten in a long time. My stomach this morning regrets my decision, and even the excitement of the cinnamon twists (and they were as good as I remember) will make it unlikely that I return anytime soon. Having spent a few hours at a tap takeover before eating probably helped me appreciate the tacos as well – but they were exactly as I'd expected: imagine cheap nachos made with Doritos instead of tortilla chips. And yes, your hands get coated with Dorito powder, which I think we can all agree is a good thing.
I have to say, overall, the app was a great experience: it was easy, it saved time (on the order of many tens of seconds!), and it furthered the inevitable total replacement of human beings by machines. I see a bright future for these fast food apps, regardless of my initial skepticism.
I even felt a moment of pause as my phone prompted me: "Uninstall Taco Bell?"