What is made-to-order? Definition and examples

If something is made-to-order, it means that a company has made it according to a customer’s specifications. We use the term when describing an item that the seller has made to fulfill a specific set of requirements. Some people use the abbreviation MTO.

We can write the term either with or without hyphens, i.e., made to order or made-to-order. However, if you are writing an article, you must be consistent. If you start with hyphens, use them throughout your text.

Fast food restaurants have made-to-order meals

Made-to-order meals at fast food restaurants
At fast food restaurants such as Burger King or McDonald’s, meals are made-to-order.

When I buy a meal at a fast food restaurant, it is usually made-to-order. At McDonald’s, for example, I can request a normal or large meal, with or without fries, with or without onions, etc. McDonald’s staff do not assemble the meals until they have received the customer’s instructions.

Collins Dictionary has the following definitions of the term:

“1. If something is made-to-order, it is made according to someone’s special requirements. 2. Custom-built according to the wishes or requirements of a specific individual. 3. Made to conform to the customer’s specifications or measurements; custom-made. 4. Perfectly suitable or conformable.”


Car built-to-order image
If your car was built-to-order, it means that you chose the interior and exterior colors, engine size, types of wheels, etc. Companies that operate a just-in-time system allow customers to ‘build their car.’

We also use the term built-to-order. However, built-to-order is more common when we are talking about machines.

For highly-configured products such as computer servers, vehicles, motorbikes, and bicycles, we can use the term build-to-order. A defense company may deliver built-to-order fighter jets. This means that the customer, usually a government, had specific requirements.


Made-to-measure dress
If they can afford it, most people will pay more for a made-to-measure wedding dress.

We use the terms made-to-measure or tailor-made with the same meaning as made-to-order. However, we only use ‘made-to-measure’ when talking about custom clothing.

Made-to-measure contrasts with ready-to-wear or off-the-peg.

I expect a made-to-measure jacket to fit me perfectly. However, if I choose a ready-to-wear jacket, I will have to try on a few before I find one that is just the right fit.

Tailor-made suits are considerably more expensive than their ready-to-wear equivalents.

Video – What is Made-to-Order?