This craze of “mass customization,” Egan says, makes people feel both unique and catered to when they are able to have it their way. It’s a “desire within our hyper industrialized food system to have something that feels like it meets my personal taste profile. We have access to customized and personalized food experiences at the restaurant level, at the fast casual level, and at the packaged food level and it has only increased.” People can personalize their order at Starbucks or wherever else, and they can also purchase whatever weirdly precise flavor of chips they prefer. (For example, Barbecue, Honey Barbecue, Sweet Southern Heat Barbecue, Hot n’ Spicy Barbecue, and Mesquite Barbecue are all available from Lay’s.) Some fast-food chains have “secret menus” which offer both more options and a supercharged opportunity to signal how special you are for knowing about them.
Ordering food digitally also makes it easier for people to customize what they eat—you can build your own pizza on many pizza company websites, and add toppings or sides or write special notes to the restaurant on GrubHub or Seamless. When a chain of gas stations called Sheetz introduced touchscreens for ordering sandwiches and snacks, “People discovered toppings they didn’t know we have,” the CEO Jeff Sheetz told Fast Company. “We cannot show a menu with all possible scenarios, but we can in touchscreens.” (People also tend to order more food when they order digitally, an added bonus for companies that support it.)