Taco Bell is preparing to roll out mobile ordering nationwide later this year, a move that will likely fuel a trend expected to shake up the quick-service world.

The Irvine, Calif.-based quick-service chain began developing an app that allows guests to order ahead using smartphones about two and a half years ago, and recently has conducted a controlled beta test in five units in Orange County. Within a few weeks, the test will be opened up to select consumers to work out operational challenges, but company officials expect to roll out the platform later this year.

Restaurant chains have been talking about mobile ordering for years but faced a chicken-and-egg dilemma: They were hesitant to invest in a mobile platform before it was clear whether consumers were ready to order and pay for food using their phones. This year, it appears that they believe consumers are ready, as the use of mobile ordering has jumped to the fast track at a number of national chains.

McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A are reportedly testing a mobile app, and Smashburger has indicated mobile ordering is on deck for rollout this year. Jersey Mike’s unveiled a mobile app in November that offers ordering and other services.

Tack Bell's mobile ordering app allows users to customize their orders. Starbucks’ chief executive Howard Schultz recently said he is focusing his energy on the development of mobile and digital initiatives, including mobile ordering. Starbucks leads the industry in use of mobile payment.

Officials at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has offered mobile ordering since 2009, said last week they plan to invest $10 million to further develop its mobile platform, including adding mobile payment.

National pizza chains, including Papa John’s, Domino’s and Taco Bell sister-brand Pizza Hut, have also proven consumer acceptance of online and mobile ordering.

Taco Bell officials believe its primary demographic of young Millennials, in particular, will welcome what the chain promises will be a seamless integration of technology that is already central to their smartphone-focused lives. “For these kids, it’s not whether you have a smartphone; it’s which smartphone do you have,” said Jeff Jenkins, mobile lead for Taco Bell.

According to recent National Restaurant Association research, 74 percent of consumers aged 18 to 34 say they would order takeout/delivery on a mobile device, if it were available. Among all ages, two in five consumers said they use smartphones to find restaurants or get directions, and capturing those users alone would be a tremendous opportunity, said Jenkins.

“Mobile is the biggest shift in QSR since the drive thru,” said Jenkins.

“If you can get 10 million people to download your app, you’re putting a portal to Taco Bell in 10 million pockets.”