Reporter's Notebook
Using Taco Bell's ordering and payment mobile app

Using Taco Bell's ordering and payment mobile app

The Taco Bell mobile app's menu drill down, customization, review-upsell and confirmation screens.

Taco Bell’s mobile app does what it is suppose to do – accept and customize food and beverage orders, handle payments and permit users to skip the ordering line inside the restaurant – and does it pretty well.

That was the consensus of a band of Nation’s Restaurant News’ editors who tried the software that ranks among the most feature-rich apps released by a national chain, to date.

Always willing to research industry developments and Live Mas, particularly on the boss’s dime, Lisa Jennings, Jonathan Maze, Ron Ruggless and Bret Thorn joined me in the all-iPhone trial of the app launched in late October, which handles payments using Taco Bell gift cards or a credit card registered by the user.

Nuts and bolts

After opening the app, selecting the restaurant where you want to pick up your food and ordering using a series of touchscreen taps, drags or pushes, the software instructs you to head to your chosen restaurant before closing. A map tool is available should directions be needed.

Once you are in the vicinity of the restaurant – say within the parking lot or 50 yards out – the app uses cellular location technology to detect and acknowledge your arrival and asks you to select the “In-Store” or “Drive-Thru” pick-up option.

If you select ‘In-Store,’ your order is transmitted to the kitchen ahead of the order of anyone waiting in line at the counter; once in the restaurant, you simply wait for your name to be called at the pick-up area.

The app does not support line jumping when you use the drive-thru, but it does save you the time it takes to relay an order to the squawk-box attendant and eliminates the need to pay at the pick-up window. During our tests, a drive-thru order was not sent to the kitchen until the app user vouched for its accuracy using the confirmation screen at the order board.

Experience

Collectively, the 1,711 Apple App Store users who rated the latest iOS version of the free app gave the software 4-plus stars out of 5. The 6,994 Android-device users who rated the app for their operating system at the Google Play website gave it an average 4.1 points out of 5.

“With the new Taco Bell order-payment app on my phone, I may never again require human contact,” Ruggless, NRN’s Dallas-based southwest bureau chief, quipped following a drive-thru run. “I placed my burrito order from my home with the intuitive menu-order interface. I was pleased that it allows a number of item additions and subtractions, a selling point with custom-craving Millennials.”

New Yorker Thorn, NRN senior food editor, tried out the app in a Taco Bell on 14th Street in Manhattan at 7:30 p.m. and “it was busy.”

“I was there two to three minutes and they called me and I walked up to the counter space dedicated to mobile orders. They got my order right,” Thorn relayed. “There was a substantial line” at the counter and while it otherwise moved quickly, the app’s line-skip function “probably saved me a few minutes, which, in New York City, is like 10 years,” he added.

During one of my transactions there were several cars in the drive-thru lane so I chose in-store pick up. That decision saved me 15 minutes because it enabled me to skip an eight-person line at the counter.

Minnesotan Maze, NRN senior financial editor, praised the software as “fabulous – This is how an app is supposed to work.” But he added in reference to the app and its line-skipping feature, "That said, it’s difficult to imagine a lot of people using this unless the restaurant is busy; that’s where I see this thing shining.”

NRN west coast bureau chief Jennings, too, found that the app worked as advertised. “Our order was ready as soon as we walked in – we waited maybe one minute” and it “turned out as we had customized it,” reported the Southern California-based editor.

Jennings and I were both disappointed that our preferred neighborhood Taco Bell locations were not taking part in the mobile ordering initiative. Such spotty store participation may be costing the chain business, as the app’s features might sway someone to use a conveniently located Taco Bell over nearby competitors, but not inspire them to make a special trip.

Among the benefits

I'll post more, later, about the potential business benefits tied to the Taco Bell mobile app. For now, however, I can share that its food customization feature – with charges for some ingredient additions or substitutions – inspired two NRN editors to increase their spend by from 22.3 percent to 50.3 percent.

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