The largest fast food chain in the country, McDonald’s, is testing a highly automated location with no indoor seating just outside Fort Worth. It is the only location like this in the country.
“The features – inside and outside – are geared toward customers who are planning to dine at home or on the go,” a McDonald’s press statement explained of the design.
The restaurant at 8540 West Freeway in White Settlement has multiple modes for ordering and receiving the fare. A dedicated drive-through lane allows for ordering ahead and picking up burgers and drinks from a conveyor belt. An employee takes the order number and is available to answer questions throughout the process, a company spokesperson said.
Order kiosks inside the location accept cash or credit, parking is available for curbside pick-up, and food couriers like GrubHub drivers have a dedicated area to streamline their interaction as well.
According to the spokesperson for McDonald’s, customers appreciate the new technology and ease of ordering associated with the “Order Ahead Lane.” He also claimed delivery drivers appreciate the simplicity of an area just for them to pick up customers’ orders.
Franchisee Keith Vanecek and Manager Rosemin Jussab are two of the people behind the operation of the new test restaurant.
Jussab, who has worked for McDonald’s for 20 years since her college days, enjoys the challenge and the technology that comes along with it. “The focus on technology within this restaurant is amazing and shows the emphasis we put on innovation; it’s exciting to be a part of,” she said in a press release.
For those concerned that an automated restaurant like this one will eliminate entry-level jobs, McDonald’s says it anticipates this restaurant format will require a comparable number of team members to a traditional store. Employees are required for interaction between customers and the restaurant team when picking up orders, assisting with using the self-order kiosks, and delivering curbside orders.
The recent coronavirus pandemic likely contributed to the speed of automation we are seeing in industries like fast food restaurants today, economist Vance Ginn told The Texan.
Ginn said the pandemic has led to difficulty finding workers, inflation has raised the wages demanded by entry-level workers, and high turnover rates have increased costs for training. Combined, these factors have contributed to an acceleration in the implementation of technology like the new test location of McDonald’s.
“Businesses have to make a profit or they don’t stay in business,” Ginn noted.
“Short-term [the automation] may have some costs, but other jobs will come around,” Ginn said. He suggested a shift to other jobs will take place as has always happened when technology advances and crowds out another industry.
“When the Model T was created, people cried about the end of horses and buggies, but we wouldn’t want to go back,” he added.
Additionally, entry level workers may be incentivized to get training in higher technical skills to participate in the workforce.
McDonald’s is aiming to serve its customers more satisfactorily and seamlessly through the use of automation at its new test location. The chain has struggled with customer satisfaction, falling at the bottom of the list 15 points behind Chick-Fil-A, a perennial leader with employees declaring their “pleasure” in serving customers.
Whether the newest test location will help McDonald’s move up in the satisfaction rankings, and whether it is adopted elsewhere, remains to be seen.
“That’s the beauty of the free market,” Ginn commented. “Businesses can try new things and see if they are profitable. It allows for experimentation.”
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.