by Kim S. Nash

10 Ways Tech Is Making Fast Food Personal

Mar 27, 20135 mins
MarketsMobileSmall and Medium Business

Fast food restaurants want to use technology--theirs and yours--to create a highly intimate customer experience. Your personal device and the restaurant's own systems will exchange data, for your convenience and their profit. Fast food becomes not so much a destination, but a service that follows you from mealtime to mealtime.

How Technology Is Creating Fast Food as a Service

The future of eating out lies in today’s experiments at Burger King, Domino’s, McDonald’s, Jamba Juice and the many other companies in the $707 billion quick-service and casual dining market. Restaurants want to use technology–theirs and yours–to create a highly intimate customer experience. Your personal device and the restaurant’s own systems for sensing, analyzing and transacting will exchange data, for your convenience and their profit. Fast food becomes not so much a destination, but a service that follows you from mealtime to mealtime.

For an in-depth analysis, readMobile and Personalization Technologies Drive Fast Food Chains to the Future. Meanwhile, here’s a taste of what’s in store. Bon appetit!

McDonald’s Australia

McDonald’s Australia, known by Aussies as “Maccas,” offers an iPhone app that lets diners learn about the origins of ingredients used in eight products, including burgers, fries and buns. With the TrackMyMaccas app, customers scan augmented reality codes printed on food packaging. The app then translates data from Macca’s supply chain systems about farms, suppliers, ingredients, date, time, weather, location and other variables into an animation that incorporates the faces and voices of real farmers. The text and visuals are wry and informative. “We were very conscious of being entertaining in an adult way,” says Shamini Nair, head of digital business for McDonald’s Australia. “The Simpsons was the inspiration.”

Burger King

Have it your way–at your house. Burger King started delivery service in some markets in 2011. Fast food companies have done delivery in many countries for a long time,but in the United States, burger and chicken delivery is new. In addition to figuring out how to stop fries from getting soggy (a job for “packaging engineers” with degrees in such things) fulfilling Web orders requires a call center and a different workflow. But Burger King thinks it’s worth the trouble. With a $10 minimum and $2 delivery charge, average order value is higher. In the future, CIO Kelly Maddern plans to add features for cross-selling and upselling with recommendations that pop up on the website as customers click around.

Red Robin

The rewards program at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers reflects how modern consumers blend online and offline lives. Members of the RedRoyalty program receive free food and discounted meals, as you may expect. But they also get Facebook credits through virtual currency from Plink, a rewards company. With the credits, customers can play Farmville and other games. “The demographic data on those games is startling,” says Chris Laping, CIO and senior vice president of business transformation. “Not young kids, but decision-makers of the house.” That’s just the kind of person Red Robin wants to visit the restaurant. “Facebook credits are an incredible motivator to get off the computer and go spend money at brick and mortar places,” he says.

Red Tomato

Red Tomato, a pizza place in Dubai, has squeezed the store footprint to an extreme: two inches. Red Tomato gives customers a refrigerator magnet shaped like a pizza box to stick on their refrigerators.. A customer configures the magnet with a mobile phone, specifying favorite pizza and toppings, along with payment data to keep on file. Any time he wants pizza, he presses the button on the magnet, which uses Bluetooth to communicate with the phone, which sends a text message to Red Tomato. The customer gets a text back confirming the order and the pizza arrives soon after. No call, no clicks, no problem.

Jamba Juice

Everyone’s favorite smoothie spot is piloting mobile and tablet ordering and four electronic payment systems, including PayPal and Google Wallet. Jamba recently released an iPhone app that links to its point of sale system so customers can order smoothies, pay through PayPal and designate a pick-up time, even the next day. When they get to the store, they can bypass the lines. With one tap–rather than using multiple cards and pieces of paper–customers can pay, redeem coupons and collect loyalty points, says Robert Notte, CTO. “No more Costanza wallet,” he laughs, referring to the Seinfeld episode where George’s overstuffed wallet throws out his back and then blows apart in the street.


Fans of the fresh, fast burrito that made Chipotle famous felt neglected until recently: Chipotle hadn’t updated its iPhone app since 2009. A new app, released in March, lets users order and pay for custom tacos and burritos, sure, but the app is more notable for what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t ask you to link friends, turn over your email address or sign up for instant mobile coupons. In other words, no clutter. The restaurant also accepts orders by fax. Quaint but efficient.

Dunkin Donuts

Slow lines on a busy morning are the bane of any eatery’s existence. Dunkin Brands CIO Jack Clare imagines a day when customers sail into their favorite Dunkin Donuts and, in seconds, sail back out with their preferred beverage and sweet treat. By setting up an account and activating geolocation services on their smart phones, in-restaurant networks could detect a specific customer approaching and alert employees to prepare her favorite order as she opens the door. “The restaurant becomes a fulfillment point,” Clare says.


Burgers and fries are fattening. Nevertheless, Wendy’s wants to attract calorie counters. Its mobile app lets users enter a calorie threshold, then add and subtract menu items to create meals to meet it. Inside the restaurant, digital menu boards can promote items based on inventory and sales levels, capturing customer attention with video and animation.


Domino’s is putting Web kiosks on college campuses, military bases and other places packed with hungry people. At Camp Pendleton, Marines with weekends off used to overwhelm the local Domino’s store. With kiosks on base, Marines place orders, pay by credit card and pick up their pizzas. Domino’s also wants to streamline ordering in general. In Australia, an iPad app for ordering is popular. In the U.S., customers who use Domino’s website or smartphone application see different menu versions – a shorter one for hurried phone users. Tracking customer habits is important, says CIO Kevin Vasconi. “They want us to understand what they want to order, how they like to pay and where to deliver without having to tell me every single time.”


The company that embedded wildly expensive coffee into your life now wants to make it fast, easy and nearly thoughtless to pay for it. For example, working with Square, Starbucks can turn your phone into a wallet that even tracks digital receipts (though we may not really want to know just how much we spend on latte and foam). Starbucks also launched what turned into the biggest LivingSocial promotion to date, selling 1.5 million gift cards in one day. Customers could also link the gift card to their loyalty card and keep on sippin’. Starbucks wants to be a “pioneer,” says chief digital officer Adam Brotman, in blurring lines between technology, marketing and customer experience.