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In the spirit of its marketing theme “Live Más,” Taco Bell opted to develop its own system specific to the brand instead of using one of a growing number of “off-the-shelf solutions,” which could’ve been a quicker way to bring mobile ordering to fruition, Jenkins noted.

“Living Más is all about doing things differently,” he said. “One brand will be extraordinary, while everyone else is ordinary. We asked, ‘How do we become extraordinary?’”

On a visit to a Taco Bell test unit last week, Jenkins demonstrated how the new app works. Rather than offering a static interface that looks the same every time the app is opened, Taco Bell’s app offers a message that varies, depending on the time of day. Guests might be greeted with a “Hey hungry human, ready to get your lunch on?” message around midday, for example, or another tailored to dinner or late-night snacks.

Taco Bell's app also provides calorie information to users.“It’s built on the moment of now,” which is largely how young people live, said Jenkins.

The app opens first to the menu, but then immediately allows guests to find their closest Taco Bell, so pricing specific to that location appears, as well as hours and directions.

Customers can customize menu selections, and the app offers “smart upsell” opportunities, suggesting a drink or dessert, for example, if the user hasn’t ordered one. Users can save their favorite orders, customized to their liking, for next time.

Guests can load Taco Bell gift cards or use their credit cards to pay. The order goes directly to the restaurant’s POS system and appears on the kitchen display system specifically as a mobile order.

To ensure that the food is prepared hot when the guest arrives, the system uses a GPS locator to recognize when the person placing the order is near, giving the kitchen a signal to fire the order.

The guest then has the option of in-store pick up or using the drive thru — but they don’t have to make that decision until they arrive at the restaurant. If the drive thru line is long, for example, they can tap “in-store” pickup and go inside. Jenkins said a separate pick up window for mobile orders will be available to allow those guests to avoid the line.

If using the drive thru, guests simply stop at the call box and announce their arrival by name — “Mobile order for John” — cueing the kitchen to prepare the meal and have it ready at the pick up window.

Workers will be challenged to maintain speed of service during peak hours, when restaurants are receiving a steady flow of mobile orders at the same time guests are lined up at the counter. However, Jenkins contends that mobile ordering will help eliminate some of the drag caused by consumers with “menu board anxiety,” as well as improving accuracy. When ordering by smartphone, for example, guests can take their time deciding whether to add sour cream or remove the cheese without holding up the line. “It’s really more about convenience and customization,” he noted.

Greg Fancher, Taco Bell’s chief information officer, said the chain sees mobile as a platform on which to build. “We’re looking at scale and flexibility,” he said. “We’re focused on mobile now, but preparing for what happens next,” including creating a similar system specifically for tablets or ordering on a desktop device.

Ties to a loyalty program may also be a future step, said Jenkins. “Loyalty is a really interesting opportunity for QSR,” he said. “We’re trying to bring something to life.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout