All-star apps

RB picks the best and the brightest.

It’s a leading topic at technology conferences, yet there’s still much variance to what makes “a good app,” especially among restaurants. While the consensus seems to be that one-trick ponies are a waste, and all-in-one  apps are a must, the necessary components of restaurant apps still are up for debate. 

To help get a handle on the most valuable features, the Restaurant Business team took to their mobile devices, testing more than 100 apps from regional, emerging and national chains, to see what’s out there, what’s working and what’s not.

Overall, we found that most basic apps provide store hours, contact information and a version of the menu. From there they began to branch out: Some used geolocation to find the nearest store; several offered online ordering and mobile payment; others presented nutrition information, with the fanciest apps making it interactive; and many had loyalty features that were both practical and cool. Here, we spotlight those that went above the standard build. In addition to being easy to use and visually appealing, these all-stars—whether through one special feature or a comprehensive package— truly shine. 


The app’s extensive drop-down menu shows all of its capabilities, from ordering and payment, to social media, loyalty and feedback. Users can manage a payment account through the app that’s linked to a credit card as well as to a loyalty program that stores transaction histories for easy repeat orders. 

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay, Loyalty

One cool thing: Security. Although many apps require a registered credit card, users of this app have a PIN lock and other safeguards in place. 


This app is most convenient for dine-in guests. Users can search for a nearby location and make reservations through the app, then use the tip calculator at the end of their meal. 

One cool thing: Map link. This feature takes geolocation a step further; users can click a button to open directions in Google maps.


Described as “intuitive,” the layout is organized and easy to follow. The app is basic in its features—menu, hours, social-media links, customer feedback—but it’s one of the few to provide extensive nutritional information. 

Feature: Nutrition

One cool thing: Allergy details. Ingredient-conscious diners will find it convenient to have this info handy in an app. 


The Starbucks app is a loyalty card on steroids. Infographic-style cues let users know at a glance how many purchases they need before earning their next free reward. Paying requires just two taps—or, even easier, a shake of the phone—to pull up a bar code baristas can scan, and reloading requires just a couple more. The passbook-enabled app uses geolocation to pop up on the phone’s home screen when in the vicinity of a preferred Starbucks. The only drawback: finding the food-and-drink menu is difficult.

Features: Mobile Pay, Loyalty

One cool thing: Digital tipping. At the end of the transaction, a pop-up window invites customers to send a digital tip of $.50, $1 or $2, a suggestion from Starbucks’ online crowdsourcing community.


The Chipotle Ordering app is practical, clear and easy to read. The step-by-step ordering process replicates the in-store experience, with the added bonus of nutritional and allergen information at your fingertips.

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay, Nutrition

One cool thing: Order customization. The ordering feature has a space for users to send special instructions for complete customization.

Corner Bakery Cafe

Even with a lot of different elements on the screen, the “attractive” app is aligned with the brand’s image and is easy to navigate. Users can order and reveal what they’re having via social media through the app, plus get nutritional information for meals.  

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay, Nutrition

One cool thing: Site reviews. Users can read reviews of individual locations from within the app.

Del Frisco’s

While the tester initially didn’t see how to navigate to the menu (it’s a swipe feature), the all-inclusive app aids the dine-in experience with a reservation tool, tip calculator and integrated loyalty and feedback; it even informs users of upcoming events.

Features: Loyalty

One cool thing: “Food cam.” Instead of relying on social media, the in-app camera allows guests to take pictures to share with the brand.


The app offers a relatively small feature set, including menu, social media and special offers. For the most part, it’s easy to navigate, but the Atari section goes unexplained and is unclear.

Feature: Nutrition

One cool thing: Customizable display. Users can change the app’s color and theme as well as the order of elements as they appear.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit 

The bright, vibrant appearance and scrolling home page made this a fun, interactive app, complete with QR coupons, its Big Yellow Cup Club loyalty program and the option to submit photos and link to social-media sites, including Dickey’s YouTube channel.

Feature: Loyalty

One cool thingCatering info. Few apps went beyond the restaurant experience to include details about their catering programs.


The app’s primary function is an ordering tool. While it would be more convenient to be able to view the menu before starting an order, users can enjoy accessing the Pizza Tracker to follow the status of their pizza.

Feature: Ordering

One cool thing: Voice activation. Voice-activated ordering and navigation, now in beta, makes the ordering process even more convenient and user-friendly—especially for guests on the go. 

Dunkin’ Donuts 

The easy-to-read fonts make it simple to find and use the app’s many basic features, such as feedback, coupons, menu, social media and nearby locations. Like several others apps, users also can link their DD card to the app for a mobile-payment option.

FeatureMobile Pay

One cool thing: E-gifts. Through the app, users can send friends Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards via Facebook or email.

Firehouse Subs 

Firehouse Rewards has clear navigation and an appealing design. The in-app rewards badge makes it easy to rack up loyalty points, though our tester commented that it’d be more convenient if the app had online-ordering capabilities. 

Feature: Loyalty

One cool thing: Game. This brand-oriented, fun element of the loyalty app follows a fireman jumping over burning buildings.

Jimmy Johns

This "great looking app" uses stylized fonts and design touches throughout, and its navigation tools make it easy to follow. Beyond typical app features, this one has buttons for sustainability and job openings, plus, unlike most apps, it allows users to order as guests without registering.

Feature(s): Ordering, Mobile Pay

One cool thingBranded retail. Within the app, users can purchase hats, shirts and other branded merchandise. 


Veggie Grill

To convey its healthy menu, Veggie Grill uses fresh, simple graphics. It has all the capabilities of other apps, including a whimsically named Veggie Love loyalty points program, but its nutrition calculator stands out. It provides calories, protein, carbs, sodium and fat, and allows users to edit the meal to make it gluten-free or customize it in other ways. 

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay, Loyalty, Nutrition

One cool thing: “Snap receipt.” A convenient loyalty add-on that few apps had, the feature lets users take a photo of their receipt to earn loyalty points.

Little Caesars

This loyalty-driven app gives a lot of discounts and coupons to repeat customers and offers daypart-specific deals based on time of day. Without online-ordering capabilities, though, the app misses the mark for testers who have to call or go online to place orders. 

Feature: Loyalty

One cool thing: Unlockable deals. Customers who share the app via Facebook get access to special deals.

Noodles & Co. 

While it is redundant that the app finds a user’s current location every time they click on the menu, it is extremely easy to use, even offering what our tester called a “fun tutorial” on how to place an order.

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay, Nutrition

One cool thing: Ingredient details. Not only can users access nutritional information, but an allergen guide is available through the app as well. 

Panera Bread

The loyalty-heavy app gives guests the choice of signing into their Panera profile to use rewards. The “Rapid Pick-up” feature automatically finds a user’s location and allows them to place an order as a guest. 

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay, Loyalty, Nutrition

One cool thing: Visual temptation. Scrolling photos across the top of the screen attached to an “add to order” button encourage upselling.

Pizza Hut

User-friendliness is clearly a priority with this simple-to-navigate, ordering-focused app. Special offers remain front and center throughout the ordering process, so users won’t miss out on a deal. Buttons and checkboxes are effortless to select, and screens and images scroll by easily.

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay

One cool thing: “Order previous order.” A button on the home screen lets the user reorder a previous pizza quickly and easily.

Piada Italian Street Food

Interactive design, large fonts and a descriptive menu add to the high marks. Like some others that store credit-card information, users can enter a PIN to lock their account—a helpful security measure. The app also asks users to enter their interests and dietary concerns.

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay, Loyalty

One cool thing: Sign-up bonus. The app gives users a $5 credit for signing up and $3 when friends sign up.


The minimal design of this loyalty app belies its functionality. The home screen offers just four options: view rewards, refer a friend (to the app), “socialize” or snap a receipt (to submit reward points). Our tester felt the lack of menu was the only flaw.

Feature: Loyalty

One cool thing: Easy rewards. The app tallies users’ points, showing in red the rewards they’re currently eligible to claim, and graying out those that aren’t available yet.


Like many apps, nutritional information is buried in menu descriptors, which can be accessed once a location is selected. Users can earn real-life loyalty points as they play Dino Dash, the in-app game that follows sweetFrog’s mascots as they trek through a land of dinosaurs. 

Features: Loyalty, Nutrition

One cool thing: App map. Before hitting the home page, the first screen explains how the app works, complete with descriptions of each tab.

Taco Bell 

Dark colors and small fonts deterred from the design. The app’s functions are pretty basic, save for its quickly scannable social-media dashboard that makes staying current simple.

Feature: Nutrition

One cool thing: “Cravinator.” This unique tool suggests menu items to fit users’ cravings; diners also can shake their phones for random picks.

Texas Roadhouse

This playful app has a lot of components, including call-ahead seating, buying and checking gift cards, calorie breakdown for menu items and a “super simple” Peanut Gallery game that adds some whimsy. 

Feature: Ordering

One cool thingBranding. From the neon fonts to the wood background, all design elements are very brand-oriented.

TGI Fridays

The app has a “simple, appealing design” and makes it easy to leave feedback. Plus, its rewards feature contains helpful tracking information such as rewards history and a receipt-bar code scanner. 

Feature: Loyalty

One cool thingMobile bar tab. Barflies can open a tab, view the balance in real time, then pay and tip, all from the app.

Tim Hortons

As mobile payment is slowly catching on, the U.S. version of the “TimmyMe” app allows users to pay from the app at select locations. The tap-to-pay system also keeps track of and displays past transactions and allows users to check their account balance and reload funds.

Features: Mobile Pay, Nutrition

One cool thing: Group ordering. Users can create a Timmy Run, inviting other app users to join a “run” to place a single order as one group.

P.F. Chang’s 

The app is full of bells, whistles and moving parts, yet it still runs surprisingly fast. Users can make a reservation, start an order, find a location and check their rewards all on the home screen. For added entertainment, they also can play a whimsical Mad Libs-style fortune cookie game. The artwork and branding throughout the app is fun and the extra pieces entice people to spend time with it.

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay, Loyalty

One cool thing: Creative recommendations. Users can choose their own adventure with the Dish of Destiny feature, which uses a guest’s zodiac sign to suggest an entire meal, even the cocktail, to fit personality traits. 

Zoës Kitchen

Loyalty is simple, as users just need to take a picture of their receipt for points, but some of the button titles are unclear, and the Life Goals and Daily Dose (of inspiration) tab “felt a bit preachy.”

Features: Ordering, Mobile Pay, Loyalty, Nutrition

One cool thing: Nutrition calculator. Instead of simply listing nutritional stats for each menu item, the tool adds up calories for full meals.

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