When a student orders food on Elon Dining’s mobile app from any of the nine on-campus vendors, they might notice a number indicating how long it would take for it to be ready. These can range from four minutes to over 250 minutes. 

“The only thing is the time doesn’t really match up,” freshman Josie Schultz said. “Sometimes it says 36 minutes, when it’s actually 12.” 

Near the mobile order pickup at Village Juice, sophomore Delaney Dickinson picked up her order. 

“The timing is sometimes inconsistent,” Dickinson said. “But most times I wait less than what it says on the app, so it’s pretty convenient.” 

Testing Times 

In most cases, the projected wait time for an order on Elon’s mobile order app is almost double or triple the time it takes for it to reach the customer. Over the span of a few days, I tried to compare the projected order times and the actual time it took to receive an order. 

On Wednesday I used the app to order breakfast from Biscuitville at 9:30 a.m. , during what is usually considered the morning rush. The app said it would take 56 minutes for the food to be ready. Less than six minutes into my walk from my apartment in Mill Point to Winter Garden, my phone buzzed with a notification that my order was ready. I spent almost 86% less time waiting for my food than the mobile app said I would. 

During the lunch rush, I ordered a sandwich from Boar’s Head Deli in Clohan Hall. This time, the projected wait time was over two hours at 130 minutes. Expecting the same results as that morning, I walked to Clohan immediately, thinking my sandwich would be ready when I arrived. But I waited. And waited and waited. 

Two students, Taylor Graves and Maria Herrera, had already received their sandwiches when I spoke with them. 

“I think the mobile order system works fine,” Herrera said. “I think the only problem — like with Boar’s Head — is that it usually takes a lot of time.” 

The two said they had waited around 40 minutes for their sandwiches. “You need to order before, when you’re in class, you know?” Herrera said. 

I eventually lost track of time. My phone buzzed with a Boar’s Head notification, it said my order was ready after 33 minutes of waiting. I received it 74.2% faster than the app’s projected time, much longer than the Biscuitville’s wait time that morning but closer to the time the app had predicted. 

Senior Harry Healey said he noticed various inconsistencies on the app. 

“Sometimes they will increase the wait times so that it says it’s out of operating hours,” Healey said. “Then I’ll come in and there’s nobody here.” 

For dinner that night I went to Qdoba, which had a wait time 93.82% less than expected. 

The next day, an order from Village Juice arrived 96.6% faster than the projected time, and an order from Freshii arrived 57.7% faster than the projected time. 

My first attempt at reaching out to Elon Dining for an interview did not yield any fruit, so between lunch and dinner, I visited Billy D’s Fried chicken — one of the least busy Elon mobile order locations — to ask them directly. Tasha, the cashier at the time, said she didn’t know how it worked either. 

“Sometimes we see times next to the names on the orders, and sometimes we don’t see anything at all,” she said. 

Having projected times on both ends of the mobile order process indicates that vendors are at least somewhat aware of where students are in relation to them. McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A use a similar system nationally for mobile ordering called geofencing, which lets restaurants reliably see how far away a customer is from their establishment. With this information, they can start preparing orders as customers approach the restaurant, so it’s ready as soon as they arrive. 

While at Billy D’s Fried Chicken, I was redirected to Tasha’s manager. Then to Ebony Thompson, McEwen’s Chef de Cuisine. Then to another representative, who directed me to Joeroyal Evans — the first representative I reached out to a few days prior. I sent a follow-up email, and he responded, asking me to send over my questions so he could respond via email. I have received no email from him. 

Inconsistent Data 

While on my food-ordering escapade, I surveyed the wait time patterns of the six restaurants on the Mobile Order app: Biscuitville, Flat Out, Freshii, Qdoba, Acorn Coffee and Boar’s Head Deli. Samples were taken during the breakfast rush, between breakfast and lunch, during the lunch rush, between lunch and dinner, during the dinner rush and twice more later in the evening. 

The results were underwhelming. 

Half of the time, a significant portion of data was completely unreachable. At times where various vendors were both open and proven to be so, the mobile app displayed them as closed. 

When checking the projected times one night, I saw that Flat Out was missing from the app entirely. But upon further investigation, I discovered that Flat Out was actually open, seeing dozens of students sitting at tables socializing over their flatbreads. 

Other inconsistencies made our data dubious after collection. When ordering food, the projected time sometimes dropped dramatically after placing an order. In one scenario, the wait time at Acorn Coffee started at 50 minutes before the order was placed, then dropped down to 12 minutes afterward. Other trends came across more as oddities than anything else, such as Freshii’s projected wait times never surpassing 12 minutes. The only reliable trends were each restaurant’s peak times for mobile ordering. 

All in all, the only thing that we confidently understand about the mobile order system here at Elon is how inconsistent it is. While some vendors take far less than a quarter the projected time to make an order, others can take up to half of that time. Planning around these times is nearly impossible, unless you know how long an order takes at a given time of day. You’ll get your food, but God only knows when you’ll get it. 

Mobile orders have had this problem for at least four years, but while the reality of the situation is frustrating, most Elon students have adapted and generally prefer it to the dreaded alternative: ordering in person and awkwardly standing around while their food is made. 

Near the mobile order pickup at Village Juice, sophomore Delaney Dickinson picked up her order. 

“The timing is sometimes inconsistent,” Dickinson said. “But most times I wait less than what it says on the app, so it’s pretty convenient.” 

Seniors Harry Healey and Ben Kerner spoke about the issue while eating their salads. 

“It’s definitely more efficient,” Healey said. 

“Yeah, the fact that we’re able to mobile order at all is huge,” Kerner said. “And I can’t remember them ever getting my order wrong.”