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KFC just added a "Special Offers" tab to its mobile app, with digital exclusive deals.

Restaurant brands update their apps to attract value-and-convenience-seeking consumers

McDonald’s and KFC just updated their apps to encourage order-ahead business and offer digital exclusive deals, respectively. Several companies are hinting at more updates to come.

McDonald’s has upgraded its app to encourage mobile order-ahead business. The company sent an update this week to loyalty members nudging them to “order like a VIP” – or to order ahead – while laying out all the benefits of doing so.

Those benefits include speedier service, “because we’ll prep while you’re on the way,” as the company notes. The new feature also allows customers to skip the line by choosing curbside or front counter pickup, or by ordering “table service” to dine in without the line. To incentivize such behavior, McDonald’s has added the opportunity to earn free food automatically through its rewards program with these orders.

App updates certainly don’t merit breaking news. But in the less than two years since it’s been active, the MyMcDonald’s program has already accumulated over 40 million U.S. members, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. During recent earnings calls, CEO Chris Kempczinski has stated that the app has been a “significant driver” of growth, engagement and frequency.

Notably, Mobile Order and Pay is not enabled at every McDonald’s restaurant. If the restaurant is participating, “Order Here” appears within the location map on the app. With its new order-ahead functionality, McDonald’s app should appeal to convenience-seeking consumers.

Meanwhile, KFC is chasing value-seeking consumers with its app updates, including a new “Special Offers” tab that didn’t exist a month ago. To promote the new feature, KFC is offering a digital-exclusive deal on its eight-piece fried chicken bucket for $10. The company notes this is a 45% discount from the standard price of the offering. The app-exclusive promotion is also available with eight pieces of KFC’s Extra Crispy Tenders.

During a recent interview, KFC CMO Nick Chavez said the new feature is an effective way to create “digital value,” which is increasingly important for consumers. According to Gartner research, nearly 50% of Gen Z and millennial consumers use digital couponing to combat inflation, for instance.

“Digital couponing and value is up significantly year-over-year,” Chavez said. “Our new platform allows us more flexibility in targeted promotions and the ability to generate customized options for people who use our app. We want to make sure people get the app not only to order ahead, customize, use Quick Pickup, get delivery, but also to make sure they can find a great deal every single day.”

That said, order-ahead functionality or digital-exclusive offers also aren’t breaking news. Chipotle has mastered the former feature with the support of its growing Chipotlane prototype, presenting an intriguing case study as order-ahead Chipotlanes generate higher margins and higher sales.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on app enhancements. Chipotle, which generates over $3 billion in digital sales, also recently updated its app to include location-based technology, updates on order status and more. During the company’s Q4 call earlier this month, executives said the new features have improved speed of service and customer experience.

Meanwhile, Sweetgreen launched a redesigned app last quarter that has yielded “smoother customization and streamlined ordering flow, allowing our guests to place an order faster,” CEO Jonathan Neman said during the company’s Q4 call this week.  

Even casual dining brands are starting to leverage the space. Bloomin’ Brands, for example, implemented a new mobile app last year and has since reached over 2 million downloads. During the company’s Q4 earnings call earlier this month, CEO David Deno said, “You can expect to see more activity as we improve the functionality and features of our app and digital offerings.”

We can expect more app activity from several brands, in fact, as more consumers choose to interact with them digitally and as more operators look to attract traffic without offering margin-busting blanket discounts. For starters, during its most recently earnings call, Restaurant Business International executives hinted at app enhancements and “opportunities” coming this year for both its Firehouse Subs and Tim Hortons brands, while Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti said his company will continue to invest in its app as it is driving strong margins and frequency.

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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