A Digital Experience Agency

The joys and sorrows of ordering lunch online

Nowadays, folks expect – and for the most part can – accomplish almost any task online. Knowing that, it’s surprising how many companies still aren’t getting it right, or worse, aren’t even trying.

Of course, I am referring to ordering food online from your favorite lunch spot. On Fridays, we go out or bring in and I’m in charge of placing the order. And let’s just say, when I place my vote on our handy dandy lunch app the convenience factor influences my decision at times:

So without further ado, here’s my list of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to ordering your grub online straight from the restaurant’s website:

The good


  • Panera does so many things right, I don’t even know where to begin. Ordering options include enticing imagery that is displayed in a clear and organized way. Not only are the options customizable and include integrated nutrition info, your calories and cost update in real-time as you personalize your order. You can assign names to meals, making group ordering so much more organized. The only knock I will give it for now is lack of a progress bar. When placing orders, especially multiple orders, folks want to know where they are in the process and what is left until their task is complete.


  • Chipotle does a lot of the right things that I have listed above, too. It doesn’t look as nice and sleek as Panera’s version, but they do have a very straightforward progress bar that clearly defines what’s expected of the user to complete the task at hand (mission: order lunch).


  • They do not integrate their nutritional informational though, which seems like a big miss considering that this content is available elsewhere on the site (so clearly it exists). But despite this large shortcoming, they are catapulted into the “good” with one simple capability – Group Order. You enter your team’s email addresses and Chipotle kicks out an email inviting them to place their lunch order. This puts the onus on the picky eater or the “I don’t order real menu options” person to indicate exactly what they want, and eliminates some of the back-and-forth I go through with coworkers, like:

“They actually aren’t serving their breakfast menu right now, please choose something else…”

“You can’t substitute for green beans, they don’t even have green beans…”

–or my personal favorite, “Turkey sandwich? They have 4, could you be more specific?”

On your online order screen it shows who has ordered what and your updated order total. LOVE IT. We really should eat at Chipotle more often.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.38.10 PM

The bad

 Zoës Kitchen

  • To be honest, I used to be a pretty big fan of Zoe’s online ordering capabilities before scoping out the competition. They allow you to assign names to orders and have fairly easy customization functionality. They also have a separate section for gluten-free options (but why stop there? I’ll explain more below). But there is also a lot of room for improvement. The structure and organization is poor and not very intuitive. There are too many sandwich categories, and hummus options are paired with salads as opposed to being included in the sides. There is no imagery and no nutritional information available. This is especially surprising given their emphasis on the quality of their ingredients and recipes. I’ve seen worse, but some basic improvements could make this a much better experience. But hey, at least they don’t force you to create an account.

The ugly


  • I can’t imagine what it’s like working at Freebirds and trying to fulfill customer’s orders that were placed online, it could possibly be even more painful than trying to place those online orders in the first place. First off, you are forced to create an account. Not cool. The cost doesn’t update as you customize your meal – in fact it’s buggy, and sometimes it doesn’t update at all until you check out. But my favorite is the lack of logic applied to the customization functionality. I can select both extra cheese and no cheese options for the same nachos. Or how ‘bout all 4 different tortillas for my burrito? No problem! Try watching an employee work this one out as they scramble to fulfill orders during the lunch hour:

I’d say my chances are pretty slim for my order coming out correct. Or at all.

How to make things better

So now that we’ve discussed some winners and losers in the online ordering world, I do have some thoughts on how even the high achievers could step up their game:

  • Provide filters to narrow down menu options based on dietary restrictions: The more picky (I mean, sophisticated) we become when it comes to our food choices, the harder restaurants have to work to clearly define what is or isn’t in their food. Some places, like Chipotle, already provide this information online, so why not integrate it with your online ordering process? Allow users to select among options like vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc. to narrow down choices to their relevant options.
  • Provide option to revert back to the original: Customization is great. But it turns out that sometimes chefs actually know what they’re doing. So while I am busy customizing my perfect meal, there are times when I think, “whoa, enough is enough. What kind of bread is this supposed to come with again? I should probably just stick with that.”
  • Help me decide: Sometimes, we are overwhelmed with options. Bringing in certain elements of the review concept could help customers make a quicker and more informed decision. This could be in the form of indicating employee’s favorites, allowing customers to vote or rate the menu options, or calling out their top sellers. It would serve as the equivalent of asking the server “Which do you recommend?” or “Which is your most popular dish?” without actually having to speak to someone.

Do you ever order lunch online? Who’s doing it right or who shouldn’t even bother? Let us know in the comments below.