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OrderAhead Makes It Easy To Order Takeout Food

Ordering food for pickup can sometimes be problematic.

First, you have to place the order by speaking to someone over the phone; next you often have to stand in line at the restaurant to pick it up; and then you have to pull out your wallet to pay at the register.

After all of that, it’s not uncommon -- once you get back home or to your office -- to discover that mistakes have been made.

Well, as increasingly is the case for every day problems like this one, there’s now an app that can help simplify the process, called OrderAhead.

Once you download this free iOS app (or visit the company's website), and add a credit card, you’re ready to go.

You can browse “nearby places” – there are hundreds of them in San Francisco already, like Philz Coffee and Umami Burger – check their menus, make your choice, set your pickup time, and click, you’re done.

An electronic receipt confirms your order and pickup time.

Once you’re at the restaurant, you just grab your food and go, since payment has already been taken care of inside the app. Plus, digital orders are far less likely to result in the types of errors that routinely occur when people order by voice.

OrderAhead has carefully designed its app to streamline the food ordering experience on devices with limited screen real estate.

“We work with every merchant to customize their menu for the phone,” says OrderAhead’s exec Conway Teng. “We often simplify their menu, not eliminating anything, but grouping foods by types and categories that make sense on the small screen.

“We give each individual merchant a lot of attention, to make sure they're happy with the way the app displays their items.”

The company, which was part of the Y Combinator class in the winter of 2011, rolled out its service first in Palo Alto last spring, expanding into San Francisco in late summer.

It has just expanded to Los Angeles, as well, and is poised to open in other parts of the country next year.

With a self-service platform for the restaurants to open accounts, OrderAhead will “wait for a certain density of places in any one area,” says Teng, before expanding there.

Early users asked for, and have now received, a “past orders” feature, which allows you to reorder your favorite dishes with a single click. You can also earn a $5 credit by using the “share and refer” feature, which rewards you when a friend adopts the app and places an order.

As for its business model, the company charges the restaurants a commission on the sales it enables.

OrderAhead has some ambitious goals -- to emerge as a bridge between mobile shopping and offline shopping, and to expand well beyond food for pickup.

“While more people are using mobile phones to order online,” says Teng, “what's fascinating is that no one's taken this mobile ordering trend out to the real world to the brick and mortar stores.

“Our vision is to try and bring every store out there to the convenience of what’s held in your hand. Every store in the world. We started with food as a stepping-stone to learn, plus food is the most ordered item for pickup.

“But in the future, we want you to be able to use OrderAhead for anything, anywhere, anytime.”

The company, which employs 17 and is backed by a list of blue-chip investors, is headquartered in Redwood City. An android app is in development.