In late 2014, Taco Bell became the first major fast-food chain to roll out an order-ahead app. Finally, a Fourth Meal habitué could pay ahead, skip the line, join a rewards program, and creatively customize their Nachos Bell Grande without enraging a line of people behind them. Shortly after a very involved launch, Taco Bell even threw free Doritos Locos Tacos at mobile-app users. Despite all the fanfare, the Live Más app, while popular, was never the No. 1 free app in the Apple universe. Because, really, what fast-food ordering app would be?
Earlier this week, Chick-fil-A, the sometimes maligned and beloved chicken chain, introduced its One app, which offered all of the things that Taco Bell’s app does, plus the immediate promise of a free chicken sandwich just for downloading the app. In just three days, the app has been downloaded over a million times and has led the most downloaded free app iTunes tally board since Wednesday, muscling out the likes of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and the (frankly, weird-sounding) multiplayer snake-battle game slither.io.
So how did a (relatively small) chicken chain conquer narcissism and reptilian infatuation in the digital realm? In part, by courting families, a demographic that it pursues more vigorously and more successfully than most other chains. “82 percent of millennial parents say they would do almost anything to avoid long lines at fast food restaurants when they are with their children,” the company noted in a press release announcing the launch of the app. “In fact, nearly half (48 percent) said they would rather not eat at all than stand in a line.” For a company that does more sales-per-store than other quick-service restaurants by a long shot, this is particularly meaningful.