My introduction to mobile food apps could not have come at a better time. It was February 2014, the polar vortex was in full force in Pittsburgh, and I was preparing for midterms. Anyone who knows me learns pretty quickly that a temperature of 75 degrees means I am tepid. So when my friend suggested that we head over for a dinner break at Chipotle, she met my incredulous eyebrow raise with a chuckle.

She showed me that we could use Chipotle’s app to skip the line (thus not have to deal with the line out the door in arctic temps) and pay for our order. Time is a precious commodity to anyone, and the idea of getting fast food quickly (and staying warm) appealed to me and apparently many others.

Fast-forward two years, and I’m wondering who else uses mobile apps? Furthermore, could it help the food service industry increase sales?  According to a May 2016 Business Insider report, “Orders placed via smartphone will make up more than 10% of all quick-service restaurant sales by 2020.”

This summer, we launched the following question about mobile apps for fast food restaurants.


Topline Results

About 15% of U.S. adults use mobile apps at fast food restaurants to order their food ahead of time and pay through the app. There is potential for growth in the space as a little over 10% of adults intend to use an app like this. Overall, 17% of adults have not heard of them.

Key Demographic Insights

  • Women are more likely to both use an app and intend to download an app compared to men.
  • Millennials are the heaviest users of an app. Notably, Millennials and Gen Xers are almost equally likely to fall in the “intenders” category.

What Ages Use Mobile Food Apps

  •  U.S. adults without children, as well as parents, are almost equally likely to use and intend to download a mobile ordering app.
  • When comparing the question of mobile apps for fast food restaurants vs. household income, there were no significant differences to be found.
  • Suburban residents are more likely to answer “I use one (or more) and I like it.”

Additional Insights

  • People who eat fast food at least once per week are more likely to enjoy using a mobile ordering app.
  • Those who consider price over brand when shopping are more likely to answer “I use one (or more) and I like it.”


Gamers and Mobile Food Apps

This was an interesting insight to me. Gamers are more likely to use fast food mobile apps, and if we take it one step further we come across this tidbit: U.S. adults who use and intend to use mobile apps for fast food restaurants are more likely to play Pokémon GO or plan to play the game. Perhaps the fast food industry should consider joining forces with Pokémon GO’s developer, Niantic, to add some Pokémon stops at some of their locations.


Commuters and Mobile Food Apps

My earlier statement about people being strapped for time seems to be holding true. Here we see a clear correlation between increasing commute times and the likelihood of someone using a fast food mobile app. We also see a similar trend among increasing commute times and those who intend to download an app. Perhaps, this will convince more food service retailers to include GPS positioning in their apps to lure customers who are close by with an offer of free fries with their order.

Dunkin’ Donuts

Now that we have an idea of who the fast food mobile app user is, let’s briefly examine if the apps are likely to increase restaurant sales. Earlier this year, Dunkin’ Donuts announced new features on their mobile app that allowed people to order and pay ahead from their phone, skipping the lines when picking up their order. This summer we posed the following question to U.S. adults:

Dunkin' Donuts Mobile App Users

Topline results reveal that 6% of U.S. adults are likely to frequent the restaurant more often as a result of Dunkin’ Donuts’ revamped mobile app. If you look at the results rebased for those who already eat at Dunkin’ Donuts, we see that 43% of U.S. adults are likely to frequent the restaurant more often due to the mobile app.

Overall, it seems probable that fast food restaurants are likely to increase sales from customers who are loyal to the brand and those who are lukewarm to their brand as well. After all, when you are pressed for time, saving a few minutes by not having to wait in line to receive your food seems to appeal to a good majority of the population.