My preteens have this running joke in our home. As soon as the clock strikes 6PM and dinner is not even close to getting on the table, they yell out in unison, “Uh-oh! Better go to the drawer!” Yes, mobile orderingfor us this sacred drawer is full of menus and coupons from local restaurants. You name it; we have it – with great shame on my part.

Luckily, it appears that my reliance on this hallowed drawer is quickly disappearing. As more eateries adopt the use of remote ordering systems, this reliance on paper menus is being replaced by technology that’s never far away from our reach (and eyes).

It’s a brave, new, app world for food services

With 178 million people in the U.S. owning at least one device, it seems like everyone is looking down on one. No matter where you look, people are facebooking, tweeting, gaming, instagramming, pinning, and so much more – all on their mobile device.

With all of this mobile activity, several players in the food service industry see opportunity. Like Apple Pay, mobile ordering apps have the potential to radically change consumer behavior as well as expand retailer reach. Hungry eaters can now pick up their mobile device to quickly select what they want from a particular restaurant. This greatly reduces the likelihood of mistranslation of the order while giving customers more time to decide and place a food order without the pressure of holding up a line. It’s also a winning opportunity for smaller retailers who want to promote their establishment to a wider audience by making their brand appear bigger in force than they are in actual size.

5 chains that are giving “fast food” new meaning…

  1. Starbucks: Using Portland as the beta city for its “Mobile Order & Pay” mobile app, the company will roll out the feature nationwide in 2015 and make the order-ahead option available in its mobile app.
  1. Taco Bell: This is the first national fast-food chain to launch a mobile ordering and payment app for both drive-thru and dining room orders. It also gives consumers the freedom to customize their order by detailing every ingredient to menu items.
  1. Chipotle Mexican Grill: With this new iPhone and iPod Touch ordering app, ordering an $8 burrito just got way too easy. Consumers can now satisfy their cravings by crafting their favorite order, choosing a convenient store location, and securely paying for the order directly from their device.
  1. McDonald’s: Currently being tested at locations in Salt Lake City and in Austin, Texas, fast food just got faster. This app allows consumers to order and pay for their food through a mobile device and then collect it at the store or drive-thru window. In addition, the app alerts consumers to special promotions, loyalty programs, and rewards points.
  1. Domino’s: Although this app was introduced last year, this still deserves to be on the list due to its sheer innovativeness. Joining forces with Ford, Domino’s created an e-commerce app that is integrated with an automotive telematics system. Registered Ford Sync AppLink users can order a pizza without taking their eyes off the road.

…and quickly outpacing Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley thrives on building new platforms that businesses want to adopt. However, these food retailers and many others are bypassing that traditional approach to solve a problem plaguing Silicon Valley for years: linking mobile phones to retail stores.

In Starbucks’ case, the app launches an order-ahead option whenever consumers are close to a set of GPS coordinates of an available Starbucks store location. And since many consumers are starting to pay at the counter with their mobile phones, ordering through an app seems just as natural. According to Starbucks Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman, “Ordering ahead will make going to Starbucks better by eliminating the “pinch point” of the line – and drive more business as a result. [And we’ve] designed this mobile order-and-pay capability to just feel like a natural extension from an experience perspective.”

If a mobile ordering app can make access to food service easier, could this technology be applied to other areas of the business? Maybe it’s time for Silicon Valley to take notice.