The drive-through in your pocket

Mobile fast-food apps can be a time-saver, but there are always going to be glitches

John I. Carney
6 min readApr 4

A partial screenshot of an Android smartphone showing various fast food app icons, divided in the middle by a jagged stripe with a dotted line through the center.

The first fast food mobile app that I used regularly was the Subway app. I hate going through the line at Subway. You always either feel like you are holding the person behind you up, or the person ahead of you is holding you up. Maybe it’s gotten better with Subway’s recent emphasis on specialty sandwiches — or maybe it’s gotten worse, because there are still people like me who would rather customize their sandwich from scratch, and all of us are in the same line.

With the Subway app, though, you can customize your sandwich to your heart’s content, and take your time making up your mind about it. And you aren’t holding anyone else up when you can’t decide what kind of mustard you want.

You pay for your sandwich in the app, and then you drive to the store, where — instead of standing in the normal line — you march directly to the cash register. In my experience, my sandwich is often sitting right there waiting for me, but that may be a function of how far you are from the restaurant and how busy the restaurant is. Since I usually order a cold sub, I don’t mind the sandwich waiting for me —but we’ll get back to that issue in a moment. (TV cooking host Alton Brown recommends tightly wrapping well-dressed homemade subs and letting them sit a while before serving, so that the flavors can meld.)

The checkout person hands me my sandwich and chips, a receipt, and an empty cup to take to the beverage station. In a few seconds, I’m in my car on the way back to the office.

I live in a small, rural town, and the only fast-food chains that have multiple locations are Subway and Sonic. Each of those chains has a location north of my office, on very busy Main Street, and another location east of me, on busy Madison Street. Both apps sometimes try to default to the Main Street locations, which are slightly closer to my office as the crow flies. However, the Madison Street locations are much quicker and easier for me to get to because I can take a back road two-thirds of the way.

Sometimes, an app will remember where you ordered the last time around, but in other cases, especially when there’s been an app update or…

John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at