Will you soon get a burger at the touch of a button? McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) is testing kiosks through which hungry, hurried customers can place their orders. It may be high time the fast-food chain found another way to bump up efficiency.
Prior to the company's impressive turnaround, service figured in customer dissatisfaction. Theoretically, a push-button system that delivers orders straight to the kitchen could cut time and alleviate confusion, as well as pare down frantic lunchtime lines. Also, imagine how the technology could help speed up the drive-thru lane. (It should be noted that these kiosks are meant to run simultaneous with traditional ordering, not replace it.)
Such automation is becoming more prevalent. How many of us hardly ever even see a bank teller anymore? Many grocery stores have the self-scan option. My local AMC Entertainment (AMEX: AEN ) theater has a collection of ticketing kiosks that spring to mind. They always seem just as busy as the traditional lines, and help speed up a busy Friday night at the movies.
These businesses allow you to choose whether you'd rather interact with another human being to make your transaction or push some buttons and expedite a simple process that doesn't need assistance. Meanwhile, the increasing frequency of credit and debit card usage has made such automation easy to implement.
Of course, paying for a movie ticket may be easier than delivery of hot, prepared food. As you've already guessed, your burger and fries don't come shooting out of the kiosk. Instead, an employee rounds up your order and brings it to you.
Throughout its turnaround, McDonald's has been upping the ante in finding innovative ways to attract a crowd, with ideas including music downloads and DVD rentals. Its creative use of technology may well prove that thinking out of the Happy Meal box is working.
However, in this case, the test isn't quite the innovation that other theories have been. Rival Burger King is also testing the same idea in a few of its stores. If successful, one can imagine that such fast-food giants as Wendy's (NYSE: WEN ) and Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM ) would be eager to copy it.
If the test's a success, you may someday be pushing buttons for burgers at a McDonald's near you. Any method that McDonald's can dream up to serve patrons more quickly and attract more loyal customers could only help to grow its top and bottom lines. However, one might worry that the system could wind up breeding chaos, turning restaurant outlets into a great, big McMess. For now, we wait to see.
Do you think placing orders via kiosks would be a great way to speed up McDonald's processes? Or do you think that it would just cause more confusion than ever inside busy restaurants during peak hours? Sound off on the McDonald's discussion board.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.