McDonald's, Chick-fil-A track customers through apps to slash wait times

McDonald's and Chick-fil-A are rolling out geofencing technology on their apps to serve meals faster and hotter

McDonald's and Chick-fil-A will serve meals hotter and faster for mobile app customers thanks to new app features introduced by each chain. 

The restaurants aim to improve their mobile-order experience with the addition of geofencing technology that will track customers' locations and notify staff when they are close. 

Chick-fil-A said earlier this month that new improvements to the Chick-fil-A App's location services will tell their kitchen when customers are close to the restaurant so they can start prepping their order. 

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Another new feature will let app users see how long their order will take if it is placed for carryout, curbside, or dine-in, with Chick-fil-A claiming the estimates are "pretty accurate." 

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Side-by-side photo of a Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich Combo and Frosted Lemonade.

Chick-fil-A's original Chicken Sandwich and Frosted Lemonade are popular orders at the American fast food chain. (Chick-fil-A / Fox News)

Geofencing works by using GPS technology to set up a digital perimeter around a location. When a device, such as a mobile phone, enters that perimeter it will trigger an alert notifying restaurants of that device's location.

McDonald's announced new geofencing features on its app in March, which it calls "Ready on Arrival," Restaurant Business reported.

"Using existing location data, it allows our crew to start assembling a customer’s order prior to their arrival at the restaurant, ultimately delivering hot, fresh food when customers arrive to pick up their order," CFO Ian Borden explained at McDonald's Q1 2023 earnings call last month.

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The Chick-fil-A logo on a mobile phone with a red background

In this photo illustration, Chick-fil-A logo is seen on a smartphone and on a pc screen. (Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Borden said initial data showed the location-tracking feature is improving wait times and increasing customer satisfaction. 

Chick-fil-A said its new geofencing features were tested on 100 restaurants across the country and found to improve restaurant operations. The average mobile-app customer reduced their wait time between one and two minutes, and estimated wait times displayed on the app were accurate more than 90% of the time, according to Chick-fil-A. 

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A customer uses the McDonald's app

Person holding an iPhone displaying the McDonald's app in Lafayette, California, May 2, 2022. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"By timing a customer’s arrival with their order, we can ensure they’re getting a meal that is both fresh and served quickly," said Morgan Anderer, senior project lead on the Customer Digital Experience team at Chick-fil-A. "We don’t believe our customers should have to compromise, and these new features truly balance what our restaurants do best: exceptional quality and efficient service."

An improved mobile app experience could be beneficial for both fast-food restaurants and their customers. 

As more people put in app orders ahead of time, franchises like McDonald's and Chick-fil-A can have food prepared faster, shorten lines at the drive-thru and — hypothetically — reduce the number of paid staff needed to run the restaurant. In-app features like rewards programs will also give customers a little bit of added value to their ordering experience, and give fast-food providers better opportunities for miro-targeted marketing.