For the caffeine-deprived, nothing is more daunting than a 12-person line at Starbucks. Come December, though, there will be relief at about 150 Starbucks stores in Portland, Ore.—assuming customers are coherent enough to use a new preorder app that gives them a pickup time. Upon arrival “your beverage will be sitting there,” says Starbucks spokeswoman Linda Mills. “If we need to remake your beverage to make sure it’s the right temperature, we’ll gladly do it.”
Fast-food chains including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts are using, testing, or developing similar apps. Startups such as OrderAhead, a three-year-old company in San Francisco founded by former derivatives trader Jeffrey Byun, are assembling networks of merchants and taking a 5 percent to 10 percent cut of each transaction. (The typical app eats 3 percent to 10 percent.) “OrderAhead addresses latent demand. We’re enabling behavior that was not possible before,” says Byun, whose company has signed up thousands of merchants in places such as California, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
Struggling mobile-payment startup Square, looking for more transaction fees, released its own preorder app for restaurateurs in New York and San Francisco in October and has signed up hundreds of businesses, says spokesman Johnny Brackett. Two years from now, every quick-service restaurant should have a mobile express lane, says Richard Crone, who heads researcher Crone Consulting. “All of them that have a chance of staying in business will have this,” he says.