Computerworld has a cool story on how mobile apps are changing fast food. By allowing customers to pre-order ahead of time on their phones, big chains are effectively making their whole processes much faster and more efficient.
Taco Bell’s test, currently happening in five Southern California locations, is particularly ingenious in that it doesn’t just allow for pre-ordering, it also charges the user’s credit card, so no transactions are necessary at the restaurant itself. Moreover, the app uses the phone’s GPS to signal the restaurant that the customer is approaching. That way, you can place your order and the preparers will only start work on it when you’re a few minutes away. Talk about just-in-time food.
As the article illustrates, doing this isn’t a big stretch for chains because it is usually just a case of taking what the cashier sees on their register and repurposing it into an app. Whether the order is coming from the front counter or from across town, it makes no difference to the people preparing the food, which is why everyone – including Taco Bell, McDonald’s, KFC, Papa John’s and others – are in the process of developing and testing such systems.
Things will get really interesting when even more technology is added to the equation – namely: robots. As Computerworld notes, fast-food preparation is really just a case of assembly, where “menus are highly standardized — even the options (hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, etc.) are standardized.” Standardization and assembly are precisely the sorts of tasks that robots have been excelling at for years.
It’s only a matter of time before someone puts apps and robots together to completely automate the experience: customers pre-order on their phones and robots assemble the food, with the need for human employees greatly obviated.
It’s similar to what is likely to happen with cars, where apps such as Uber and Hailo will eventually team with self-driving vehicles to completely change the experience. A decade from now, the way in which we eat out – and drive – will be dramatically different as a result.