Subway's new mobile app.
Mobile ordering is quickly becoming a standard in fast food, and now Subway, which has more than 27,000 U.S. stores, has become the biggest U.S. chain to roll it out. The company has launched an app that lets customers to order and pay for their meals via their smartphone, and pick them up at stores.
The Subway app allows customers to customize a sandwich with toppings and condiments as they would at a store. In addition to the smartphone app, the chain is also taking desktop orders via its website. Some individual Subway locations have offered mobile ordering in the past, but this is the first app to be rolled out across the entire chain.
For customers, ordering ahead reduces wait times and can feel more convenient, but there are other benefits for the companies. Some chains such as Taco Bell have found that customers are more likely to pay for add ons when they order via app, as it makes it easier for them to explore the menu than a traditional board behind the register. The technology also provides valuable data to chains about their customers and their ordering preferences, allowing them to tailor their marketing.
Subway is the country's largest food chain by restaurant count. The second largest is McDonald's, which has more than 14,000 U.S. stores and says it will be testing mobile ordering in 2016. This October, the company plans to launch a new app nationally, which will initially offer special deals and promotions, but is likely to be upgraded over time.
"McDonald's digital ambition is to provide ways to streamline the entire customer journey," spokesperson Becca Hary told BuzzFeed News. "It's very important to know that everything we're doing is about growing our digital capabilities for the long term."
Starbucks, the country's third-largest chain, has already rolled out mobile ordering to a few thousand of its cafes, and plans to offer mobile ordering at all of its roughly 7,300 company-owned stores (but not its licensed stores) by the holiday season.