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Subway In a Hurry!
Post by trog @ 03:54pm 09/07/02 | Comments

Being a fairly serious computer nerd, I hate wasting time sorting out the mundane details such as "what will I have for lunch today?" I've recently started eating Subway fairly regularly - not because of Jared, by the way - because its close, relatively quick, and I don't feel guilty after eating it like I do at McDonalds. I honestly don't particularly enjoy Subway very much and would much rather eat junk food that tastes better, but I've rationalised to myself that if I'm going to be eating fast food regularly I should do my best to eat something that probably isn't going to make my intestines choke up (any more than they already are).

Subway's new subinahurry.com site seemed to be quite a neat little idea - I first saw the sign on the counter at my local Subway store (Indooroopilly Central, Brisbane) and thought I'd have to give it a go one day. Well, today was that day, so I thought I'd briefly document my experience.

First of all, I was impressed that I didn't need to register to use the service. You get the option to do so, which allows you to create Favourites and stuff, but I thought I'd just try and breeze through and see how it went. After selecting whether you'd like to remain anonymous or log in, and choosing a single order or group order, the first thing you have to do is select a store, which I did. It stores your preference in a cookie so next time you don't have to do it, which is handy. The store list is fairly extensive and covers most places.

After that, bam, you're in front of the menu system. You can pick from any of the pre-designed subs and then use checkboxes to select your options (salads, salt and pepper, etc). It uses a nice, quick, and easy to use shopping cart system to add all the items you wish to buy into the system. Basically its a web interface to talking to the dude that builds your sub. Nice and easy and simple. You then move on to when you want it to be ready (earliest time is 1/2 hour in the future) and can confirm your order with name and phone number.

All this stuff however is relatively trivial. The hard part is figuring out how to get the order from the web into the appropriate store. I was curious about how this happened, so mosied down at my chosen time wondering if my order was going to be ready on time. I wasn't really surprised when it wasn't - the lady (who has started recognising that I come in just about every day) was most apologetic and went looking for my order.

The orders (at least for this store) come through on a fax machine, just printed simply up as Internet orders. As it is a more or less brand new system the staff aren't really in sync with it yet, so I'm prepared to give it a few more goes before I write it off completely. I was told that the faxes that come through from the Internet are different to the normal fax orders that come through, which would make sense - I would imagine they get into the routine of glancing at the fax to see if there's an order in there that matches the visual patterns that they associate with 'more work', and if they don't see it they move on.

So, needless to say I had to go through the manual ordering procedure again. No big deal, but of course you wouldn't want this to be happening for more than a few orders. At the end I was pleasantly surprised to see the sub was, in fact, 10 cents cheaper than it would have been with a normal order. Might not sound like a lot, but like with all discounts, it adds up over time.

Overall, while my first experience wasn't really that great, once the system gets a bit smoother I can see it being a time saver. One big obstacle they will have to overcome though is people like me that order over the Internet at lunch time to save them measly minutes in standing in line - to me it seems a bit useless to stand in line waiting to get served only to tell them that you ordered over the Internet and you're just picking up. They need to cater for orders that are already made so Internet ordering goons can simply stroll straight to the cash register, hand over their grubby change, and then leave all in one fluid motion.

Another possible issue that might arise is abuse of the anonymous service. I'd like to think they're clever enough to ignore orders that don't have valid-looking names and phone numbers attached to them, but it'd be a real shame to see such a nice, efficient system locked away under a username/password system with some sort of confirmation checks. I was impressed with the speed at which I was able to place my order - the website was nice and responsive, the interface did exactly what I wanted, and that was it - my order was placed.

Definitely a web service that has potential and one that is worth a go - remember, be patient with your local store if they're not fully on the ball just yet! The service is more likely to succeed if they're given a chance to improve on it, and the better it does, the more likely we are to see other useful integration of the Internet and other local services.