With restaurants across the country closing their dining rooms in the name of “social distancing,” the fate of the restaurant industry currently relies on takeout and delivery orders.  But between my aversion to all the big-name delivery companies and my anxieties with making phone calls, achieving praxis with this sentiment can be difficult.  Luckily, I’m not scared of the phone itself, because there is one other option: online ordering.

In honor of the hashtag #GreatAmericanTakeOut that inexplicably popped out of nowhere too quickly for me to do anything to support, let’s take a look at some of the best- and worst- mobile ordering experiences.

Most fast-casual restaurants have some form of online ordering.  Some use a third-party developer like Olo to expedite the orders, and others build their user interface from the ground up, so there can be a lot of variations in the user experiences.  I’m going to be focusing on the mobile web experiences, since many of these services tend to have elements that don’t translate very well to mobile, but downloading each brand’s dedicated app is unnecessary unless they have a loyalty program that you exploit fairly frequently. 

Moe’s Southwest Grill

After you bypass all of the preliminary ‘choose a store/’etc forms, you are greeted with a list of tiny thumbnails depicting all the different burritos, tacos, and other accoutrements.  While this probably does minimize scrolling when compared to a grid of larger thumbnails, the pictures just end up being so small and distorted that you can’t even see what it is. Once you make your selection, you are taken to another selection screen for a subtype.  While burritos are divided into “Homewrecker” and “Joey Bag o’ Donuts” (basically just with or without guac) and tacos are divided into 1, 2, or 3 tacos, most other categories only have one subtype, making this step seem fairly unnecessary. 

Thank you for that.

From there, you pick your meat, rice, beans, and other toppings.  It’s a long list to scroll through, but given the number of toppings they offer I can’t really fault Moe’s’ web developers for that.  The last little oddity is that at the bottom of the list, there is an option to accept or decline the free chips and salsa that customarily come with every order. If you tap on the “Yes” option, it takes you to another page where you choose “red” or “green” salsa. This is bizarre to me because (spoilers) I have ordered online with them several times, and they never portion the salsas out for you.  Instead, they have a self-serve salsa bar with four to five different salsas, not just “red” and “green.” (I have not been to a Moe’s since the pandemic started, it’s possible this is a new development.) 

The overall ordering experience was clunky, but it’s hard to tell how much of the hassle was part of the inherent nature of ordering make-your-own items without being there in person.  What is certain, though, is that those tiny thumbnails and subtype pages gotta go. 2/5

What Moe’s lacks in user experience they more than make up for with the fact that they are currently running a promotion where you get a free kids meal for every purchase of a regular entree, which is a nice gesture considering the number of kids that relied on their now-closed schools for meals. (What these families’ Moe’s budget is like is a different story, but you get the idea…)  Or at least they were. I went back to double check and, even though I found at least one press release saying the offer would last until April 10, the “free kid’s meal” option is no longer on the list, so who knows.

Core Life Eatery 

Unlike Moe’s, Core Life Eatery’s main order page doesn’t bother much with pictures or other graphic design elements.  This would normally seem like a bad thing, but, compared to Moe’s, Core Life ends up feeling much more streamlined. The bulk of their menu is salads, rice/grain bowls and broth bowls (shut up, just call it soup), each with a variety of default menu selections that can be ordered as-is (contrary to my initial experiences ordering on this site where it seemed like you had to scroll through all the customizable options even if you wanted it as is, not sure if they fixed it or I’m just an idiot) as well as make-your-own options.  

The make-your-own options run into the same problems as Moe’s, with all the different greens, grains, broths, and toppings possible making for a mind-boggling amount of clutter to scroll past.  I’m not sure if making each step in this process its own page would alleviate this scrolling fatigue, some might say that waiting for the separate pages to load could be more annoying than just scrolling a lot.

It’s hard to say that Core Life truly is streamlined when the make-your-own section is as long as it is, but it’s definitely less of an eyesore than Moe’s, even if the lack of pictures makes it feel a little stark.  3/5


Look at that hexagonal salad.

My first impression upon seeing the single column of large thumbnails was, “oh look, my best friend, scrolling.” However, the option to scroll horizontally between seasonal offerings, warm bowls, salads, et al. with the menu at the top definitely helps break up the monotony.  A similar sideways scrolling feature, as well as a grid of thumbnails instead of a list of text, helps make my arch-nemesis, the make-your-own section, a lot less painful even if Sweetgreen’s 64 different toppings really isn’t that much less than, say, Core Life’s 66. (Sorry if I miscounted one of those.)  Finally, I can stop beating this dead horse!  

The integration of graphic design elements in a way that enhances functionality rather than distract from a lack thereof makes this the most aesthetically pleasing ordering experience on this list. 5/5

Shake Shack 

Similar to Sweetgreen, Shake Shack’s order page consists of a single column of large thumbnails of each menu item.  Also, where Sweetgreen had the sideways scrolling menu, Shake Shack has a dropdown menu at the top of the screen to let you switch between burgers, chicken, fries, and drinks. Each item also offers a reasonable amount of customizability if you’re seeking it out, but isn’t intrusive if you’re fine with it as-is.

One minor grumble that was probably true for all of these but I just didn’t notice until now was that selecting an item opened it in a subtle pop-up window that has to be X’ed out of, and that hitting the browser’s back button backs you out of the order page itself. 

While Shake Shake was definitely easier on the eyes than some of the other entries on this list, there weren’t any particularly groundbreaking features. 4/5 

Jimmy John’s

First things first, Jimmothy Jonothan was the first to put a banner at the top urging me to download their app, as well as another banner at the bottom informing me of their cookie policy, both of which always annoy the hell out of me even though I accept that the later just is the nature of the internet nowadays.

The most jarring thing about their ordering page is that everything is a dropdown menu. EVERYTHING.  It looks like the organizational tabs in a fucking filing cabinet up in here.

Once you open all the dropdowns and find the sandwich you want to order, each sandwich has a bewildering array of customizable options from which you can choose.  Hidden in another dropdown towards the bottom are all the options for customizing the individual ingredients on the sandwich, but featured more prominently are options such as “hollow out the bread,” “include napkins,” and “LEAVE DELIVERY AT DOOR,” (yes, in all-caps) which seems like it really shouldn’t be at this step in the ordering process (or at all, I requested pick-up) but ok.  They also have an option for writing in someone’s name, which is great if you’re putting together a large order for multiple people.

We WILL scoop bread.

The sheer number of dropdown menus you have to navigate is so baffling, but I guess it’s still better whatever the hell Moe’s had going on. 3/5  

I was originally planning on comparing how the Olo-ran ordering sites compared to the non-Olo sites, but after digging a little deeper I found out that all five of these are actually powered by Olo, even though the last three opted to not have the “olo.express/” domain name.  I guess it really comes down to how much effort each company wants to put into the design of their websites.  

One thought on “The Best (and Worst) Online Ordering Experiences

  1. RJG says:

    “But between my aversion to all the big-name delivery companies and my anxieties with making phone calls, achieving praxis with this sentiment can be difficult. Luckily, I’m not scared of the phone itself, because there is one other option: online ordering.” +1

    Regarding the annoying cookie banner you see all over the place, I *think* it comes down to how a website tracks you for ads, whether they’re legally obligated to do that.

    But I’ve never seen that when ordering food anywhere, before this.

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