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Order up an app: Smartphones are changing the way we order food

Note: Not all icons are of an actual app. Forum illustration

FARGO - It's becoming a whole lot easier to order food at restaurants these days.

Long gone are the days when famished diners had to go to the trouble of flipping through a phone book to order a pizza for delivery. Instead, the abundance of smartphones is changing the way that diners think about food and the way that restaurants think about diners.

These days, smartphone owners have plenty of food- and dining-related apps to choose from, both general and specific. And it doesn't matter what device you own - whether it's an iPhone, iPad, iPod, Android phone or tablet, you have lots of apps to explore.

On a general level, apps like Urban Spoon and Yelp function like a search engine, letting you browse pretty much all the restaurants in the Fargo-Moorhead region (or any city, for that matter, which can be helpful if you're on the road with the kids and looking for a restaurant that has spaghetti, chicken nuggets and burgers all in one place).

Yelp and Urban Spoon let you rate and review restaurants and let you view other diners' ratings and reviews to help you decide what you want. Most entries typically have links to restaurants' websites but don't go so far as to let you make a reservation or order food on the app directly.

Enter restaurants with quick service, like Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The burger joint, fairly new to Fargo over on 45th Street, has a chain-specific app that allows users to place food orders from their phones.

Mike Srnsky, general manager of the Fargo Five Guys, says the restaurant has been noticing a definite upward trend in customers' usage of the app.

"We get at least a dozen online orders every day," Srnsky says.

Srnsky's heard from customers that the Five Guys app is very easy to navigate. Users are able to customize their burger, just as they would in the restaurant (try the hot sauce on a burger sometime - it's particularly delicious).

"Everybody keeps telling us it's straightforward," Srnsky says. "It's simple. It walks you right through it. It's just like one-two-three."

Other restaurants in the F-M area that have similar apps include Dominos Pizza, Pizza Hut and Burger King. As with Five Guys, each app allows the user to directly place an order, and GPS technology finds which restaurant they're closest to (many other chains like McDonald's or Taco Bell offer apps as well but don't let the user order food).

Leonard Beck, general manager of Pizza Hut restaurants in Fargo, says that while he's heard from customers that they enjoy using the app, he's not able to tell how many orders come from the app on a daily basis.

But, he says, on a national and regional level, the Pizza Hut chain has noticed a definite increase in the percentage of orders that come from online, reflecting both Internet and app usage.

As with Five Guys, Beck says customers appreciate the convenience of the app in placing their order.

"It's pretty streamlined," he added. "It's direct. I have a couple people who swear by it."

The biggest thing about using an app to order pizza, Beck says, is that it's faster and it's detail-oriented, making sure that you get exactly what you want how you want it.

The more upscale restaurants in the F-M area have also found their way into the interactive app world. An app called Open Table allows users to directly make a reservation at the Hotel Donaldson, Monte's Downtown, Redfords Steak and Seafood and WF Maxwells. You'll have to wait to order once you're in the restaurant, though.

And while there are currently only the few restaurants in the F-M area with apps that can make a reservation or place an order, it's possible we'll be seeing a lot more in the future. A study by the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., found that out of a survey of 372 national restaurants (of all sizes), only 16 percent had a smartphone app.

And of the 34 chain restaurants that offered apps, only 12 had ordering capabilities, according to the study.

With how well it's worked for Five Guys, Srnsky expects to see a lot more restaurants coming out with apps like his.

"A lot of other competitors are definitely going to have what we have," he says.

If that's the case, phone books will become even more a thing of the past.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535