Starbucks mobile ordering and pickup is great

Quick-serve food purveyors are increasingly having to adopt technology to keep customers happy.

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Starbucks Mobile Ordering:

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Not having to wait in line at Starbucks? Sign me up.

The coffee chain is finally bringing its order-ahead system to Canada starting with a rollout to 300 Greater Toronto Are outlets next Tuesday. I tried it at a briefing this week and it’s great.

All you have to do is fire up the Starbucks app on your phone, pick a location, then create your order by flipping through the menus. The app then tells you when your order will be ready for pickup, with times usually being between two and six minutes, according to a company representative.

When you show up, a barista hands you your order and off you go. No muss, no fuss and, most importantly, no wait.

Payment is automatically deducted from your prepaid account, which is linked to the app. If there’s one thing I don’t like about the system, it’s that. It’d be nicer if the payment went straight to your credit card, Uber-style, rather than through an intermediary prepaid account, but that’s a minor gripe and it’s probably just me.

The other downside is that the new feature is only for iPhone users for now. An Android version is in the works, Starbucks says.

Full rollout to Starbucks’ 1,300 company-owned stores in Canada will continue throughout the new year. It shouldn’t take that long, though – U.S. rollout started last December and just wrapped up. The U.K. has also just started.

The idea is obviously to cut down on lineups at outlets, which can be brutal in the mornings. So far in the U.S., the ability to order ahead has both cut down on customer wait times and led to more traffic, according to the company rep.

One question that arises is, in the parlance of technology, is it scalable? Or what happens to wait times if everybody orders ahead?

The rep admitted to not knowing the answer, and it’ll probably be a while before we have to find out. At the very least some time will be saved by baristas not having to punch in orders and then process payments.

The move toward technology by restaurants and cafes is an inexorable one. Tracking firm NPD Group says restaurant visits in Canada are flat or have declined by about 1 per cent over the past year, with wait times one of the factors.

Restaurants of all stripes but especially quick-serve chains such as Starbucks are adopting technology to try to reverse that.

Online food ordering and delivery is growing very quickly – about 15 per cent each year over the past three years, NPD says. Quick serve chains make up about 75 per cent of that total.

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