You have to hand it to McDonald's
Still, even McDonald's has the potential to fall victim to hubris. And it looks like the company is dangerously close to crossing that line with an idea that takes the efficiency concept one step too far. Reports surfaced Thursday that McDonald's is thinking about using off-site call centers to handle orders at its drive-thrus. No, orders wouldn't be sent to India or someplace else offshore, but they also wouldn't be taken by someone in the restaurant.
Admittedly, the operational thinking behind the plan seems sound. By separating out the drive-thru order function, on-site workers can concentrate on food preparation and packaging without having to bother with the drive-thru customers and their sometimes complicated orders. Call-center workers, meanwhile, can focus purely on making sure that orders are correct and complete. From a pure efficiency standpoint, it seems like everyone wins -- workers are left to do what they do best and customers experience fewer errors.
However, the concept of restaurant as factory, even in the case of fast-food chains, can only be taken so far. Certainly back-end operations can be treated much in the same way as an assembly line. But when it comes to interfacing with customers, things get trickier.
Customer service, even at drive-thrus, remains important. In most cases, patrons probably would never know they aren't talking to someone inside the McDonald's. But what happens when call center order-takers make the inevitable mistakes or are rude? No one at the restaurant will be accountable, and that's likely to make customers feel like they are cogs in an impersonal machine. McDonald's would be wise to keep in mind that some innovations may not be worth it.
For more on McDonald's efficiency efforts check out: "Push Button Burgers at McDonald's?"
Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.