The Guilty Pleasure: Ordering food via smartphone apps. Where to Get It: Too damn many places, if you ask me. Price: Varies, but usually under $10. What it Really Costs: I suppose that depends on your recreational habits.
What's going on with seemingly every restaurant under the sun jumping on the online ordering bandwagon these days? It was somehow fairly natural that pizza delivery chains kicked off the trend some years ago, but recently it's gone bananas.
These days, you don't even need your computer anymore because seemingly every quick-service chain in town has an app for that. Chipotle has an especially slick one. You can get app-ordered subs from Subway and Jimmy John's. You can even order up burgers and fries from Five Guys.
I'm more than a little puzzled by the newest entrant to make a splash with ordering via app: Taco Bell. Yes, those wacky people responsible for oddities such as tacos with Doritos or waffle shells (and let's all be thankful they haven't tried to combine the two to make a Doritos Waffle Taco) now have an app that lets you order ersatz Mexican food from the comfort of wherever you're holding your smartphone.
A fairly large part of my brain looks at this innovation and tries to figure out one small issue with the app: What the hell is the point? Taco Bell is about as fast as fast food can possibly get. By my recollection, I think you stand to save approximately 90 seconds by doing an app order instead of walking in and ordering from the counter person.
Then I realized the main benefit of the app. It makes decision-making much more convenient. Taco Bell has more than a few novel ways of wrapping things in a tortilla. Want a taco? They have twenty-two different kinds. The myriad possibilities lead to analysis paralysis, where you're presented with so many possibilities that making a decision becomes astonishingly difficult. If you're looking on the app, you can browse the menu on your own instead of locking up from the time pressure of the guy behind you in the drive-thru lane.
Many other ordering apps have an issue when it comes time to pick up your order. Either they made your order the instant it comes in and it's cold by the time you get it, or they haven't even looked at the online orders and all that happens is you get to skip the line and then wait until the kitchen staff can squeeze in your to-go order among all of the other people who are already there.
Taco Bell's speed of assembly becomes an asset in this case. When you place the order, the app waits until you're about to arrive at the restaurant to send the order to the kitchen. It shows up on the order queue screen just like a regular order, and should be ready by the time you hit the counter.
Naturally, some people will raise privacy concerns. I should gently remind these people that they're probably carrying a device with microphones, cameras, and a GPS chip, and at this point any arguments are attempts to close the barn door long after the horse bolted.
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While we were chatting around the Chow Bella HQ secret lair, we realized that one of Taco Bell's main demographics may become one of the most fervent admirers of the in-app ordering. I'm not talking males aged 18-25, I'm talking stoners.
Just imagine, when you're in a haze and get the munchies, instead of everyone piling in the car and staring at the menu board for five minutes, you can take your time ordering and then send just one person to go pick it up, and have it hot and fresh right when you get there. I don't partake, but that sounds like a pretty nice idea even if I am stuck ordering Taco Bell to get it.
On second thought, maybe this whole order-by-app thing is OK after all.