More takeout orderers are all thumbs

Big restaurant chains are rushing into what could be the future of takeout and delivery food: text ordering.

Leading the way are the pizza giants. Papa John's pzza is airing national TV spots to promote the text ordering that it launched in November. Domino's dpz has offered mobile ordering — which requires cellphone Web access — since July. Pizza Hut is about to start promoting both text and mobile ordering.

Quiznos, Dunkin' Donuts and Subway have looked into text ordering. McDonald's mcd is testing it in Seoul. Starbucks sbux tested it in London and at one U.S. store.

Papa John's CEO Nigel Travis compares the potential to online ordering, which accounts for 20% of Papa John's sales. "Text is the way forward," he says. He predicts it will account for 3% of sales within two years.

The potential pool of users is huge, considering Americans already send 30 billion text messages a month. Noah Glass, founder and CEO of GoMobo.com, predicts texting could account for 25% of all food takeout orders within the decade.

Consumers have to give up something for the convenience. "What they get from you is scary: your personal digits," says Jeff DeGraff, business professor at the University of Michigan. "I don't give many people my cellphone number. It's the last firewall of privacy."

Text ordering is huge in parts of Asia and Europe. Some think, however, that Americans may be slower to embrace it, as they have been with PC ordering. "You'll have to see online ordering take off before text ordering does," says Sherri Daye Scott, editor of trade journal QSR Magazine.

On tap in text ordering:

•Papa John's. Consumers wanting to text orders must first visit Papajohns.com and set up a list of four favorite meals. Each then is represented by a cellphone digit that is used to order. Promotions will include TV spots during the National Football League playoffs.

•Domino's. A mobile Web order service was launched in July and now is available at about 65% of its stores, says Rob Weisberg, vice president of precision marketing.

He wouldn't give mobile's share of sales, but he says it has enabled Domino's to capture 1 million cellphone numbers, to which it sends promotions about once a month. "Within three years it will be as common to use a text order as it now is to use the phone."

•Pizza Hut. The chain will launch its "Total Mobile Access" service this month, says Bob Kraut, marketing chief. Consumers can text orders with their cellphones or use cellphone mobile Web access to order. "It will be a competitive advantage to offer both."

The future for text ordering is huge, says University of Michigan's DeGraff. "Within five years, it will be as common as online orders."

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