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The New Chick-fil-A Mobile App, Reviewed

Spoiler: Superfans are going to like this

Chick-fil-A's new app allows users to skip the line.

Until recently, Chick-fil-A’s rewards program was a weirdly secretive, invite-only affair reserved for only the most loyal of the chain’s regular customers — the one-percenters of fast food, if you will. On June 1, however, the beloved Atlanta-based chain unleashed a mobile app (and an accompanying loyalty program) that quickly became the number one most downloaded free app in the iTunes Store.

That’s right, for a brief period in time there were more people clamoring to download Chick-fil-A One than there were over-30s furiously trying to figure out how to take their first Snapchat — largely because the chain promised a free chicken sandwich to everyone who downloaded the app.

Why is it called Chick-fil-A One? Is it because there is only one Chick-fil-A app? (True.) Or is it because it represents, at least in CEO Dan Cathy’s opinion, the One True Way to get delicious fried chicken sandwiches into your face? Who knows. Anyway, it's a pretty slick app that the company clearly sunk some big chicken money into; the well-designed user interface should shame Snapchat developers.

Chick-fil-A One has two basic functions. One, it gives users the ability to place an order and pay for it ahead of time, therefore skipping any potentially long lines at their local Chick-fil-A store; and two, it enables the user to earn free food based on a running history of their purchases.

The mobile ordering works like this: The app uses your phone's built-in location services to show you the closest Chick-fil-A locations. Pick one, and then browse the in-app menu to select your meal.

Got food allergies? The app has an “Allergens Filter” that does exactly what it sounds like. As someone who recently — and reluctantly — gave up dairy, it was helpful but also soul-crushing to find out I should avoid the classic Chick-fil-A sandwich. (Thankfully, waffle fries are still a-ok.)

The coolest thing about ordering via app is the ability to customize your order in ways you probably never considered. Colby jack and bacon on a chicken sandwich? Why yes, that sounds delicious. Light or no ice in that lemonade? Sure thing, boss. No salt on those waffle fries? A travesty, but have it your way.

Much like the Starbucks app, frequent Chick-fil-A visitors can load up their mobile wallet with funds to purchase food quickly. Said funds can be added with Visa Checkout or a credit or debit card; the minimum add is $10, and the most you can have in your mobile wallet at once is $200 (you baller, you).

The biggest draw for most people, though, will be the chance to score free food. The rewards are referred to as "Treats," and the app uses a circular chart to show how close you are to earning your next "Treat." Once the circle fills up with red, you get a free item. I have yet to score anything free beyond that initial free sandwich, so at this point it's hard to say exactly how many purchases it takes to earn a free item, or whether it's based on dollar amount spent or number of visits. (I reached out to Chick-fil-A for more info on that, so stay tuned.) Users can pick from a few different Treat options, though: Currently, I can see that for my next reward, I have the option of a medium waffle fry, a soft-serve cone, or a fruit cup (yawn).

Unfortunately, actually placing a mobile order is where things got a little hairy for me. In theory, you order and pay ahead of time, and then upon arrival at the restaurant, you simply tap the "I'm Here" button. No need to wait in line: The staff will put your order up and call out your name, at which point you simply present your phone with a scannable QR code and then go on your merry way. (The truly lazy/busy can also just zoom through the drive-thru for pickup, but good luck skipping that line without risking bodily harm.)

In practice, this all went to hell as soon as I tapped "I'm Here." Instead of generating a QR code, the app gave me an ominous pop-up error message that said "Let's Talk" and instructed me to come into the restaurant to sort things out. The unfailingly polite employee I spoke to looked a little alarmed and said he'd never seen this particular error message before, but he'd be glad to take my order face-to-face — which was fine, but also kind of defeated the purpose of using the app in the first place.

Nonetheless, even if the mobile order feature shits the bed — or if you simply want to do things the old-fashioned way — you can still redeem the free sandwich offer and earn subsequent free food rewards by presenting your app to be scanned when you make a purchase either inside the restaurant or at the drive-thru window.

The app itself is about 87MB in size, and it’s probably not worth the precious space it takes up if you still have a (gasp) 16GB iPhone and only a passing affinity for Chick-fil-A. (One co-worker who tried to download it gave up because it was taking too long.) But if you have a serious waffle fry habit you’d like to earn dividends on, it’s probably worth the download — even if only to get that initial free sandwich. The chicken sandwich kings will presumably get those pesky error messages worked out eventually.