Fast food just got faster.

After a mysterious social media blackout last week, chalupa titan Taco Bell announced a new mobile app that lets customers skip the line by ordering and paying in advance from wherever they are.

If you’re craving a Crunchwrap Supreme, all you have to do is download the app, add a credit card, choose your meal, and saunter over to the nearest Taco Bell. Once you get within 500 feet of the restaurant, the app will prompt you to “Check In” so the kitchen knows you’re almost ready to pick up. They’ll start making your meal, and by the time you stroll up to the counter there will be a fresh Mexican feast waiting for you.


Taco Bell could have stopped here, but instead they pushed beyond the obvious and built the app not just to speed up ordering, but to completely transform the Taco Bell experience. The app lets customers build upon standard menu items by adding and swapping cheese, shells, salsas, meats, vegetables — anything, really — to create tremendous, grotesque Franken-meals only limited by their imaginations.

Taco Bell has designed a mobile experience that is completely unique, not just a digitization of its existing in-store experience, a distinction that will likely drive more and more customers to order through the app.

And the design is an accomplishment here too. Teens and young adults are a key audience for Taco Bell, so it’s no accident that the simple, sleek user experience borrows from millennial mainstays like Instagram (users browse large, savory photos to navigate the menu) and Tinder (swipe left to add extra cheese). The app is easy to use and feels exciting and modern: more the work of a savvy startup than a 50-year-old restaurant chain.

But beyond the glossy UX lay some serious business applications. As mobile ordering grows, Taco Bell should see shorter lines in its restaurants (leaving fewer would-be customers ditching before they order), and could significantly cut operating costs if fewer in-person cashiers are needed. They’ll also be collecting valuable data about customer preferences with every mobile transaction, and eventually could bump an especially popular custom creation to the standard menu.

With all of these benefits, Taco Bell certainly won’t be the last service giant to support mobile orders. McDonalds is currently testing a mobile ordering app in 22 locations in Columbus, GA, and Starbucks plans to take a shot at its infamous lines by rolling out mobile ordering nationwide in 2015 (an idea that we suggested in May!)

Others following Taco Bell’s lead will need to think outside the box and design mobile experiences that go beyond simple mobile payments. Digital strategy should not be used to translate an existing experience to another medium, but to augment and transform the existing experience to be more exciting, more engaging, and more profitable. And don’t just build for show: start with a well-developed digital strategy that builds upon audience insights to deliver a solution with valuable business applications.