McDonald’s of the Future: Rise of the Machines?
McDonald’s has been seeing a decline in sales the last few years, with the company taking in $24.62 billion in 2016 compared to $28.11 billion in 2013, according to MarketWatch.
However, since August earlier this year, McDonald’s shares have risen to an all-time high, topping Wall Street Journal’s expectations by 14 cents per share. Part of its success is in CEO Steve Easterbrook, who took over in 2015 and is keeping innovation and customers as the focus of the company.
The restaurant plans on doing this by introducing the McDonald’s Experience of the Future initiative, where all locations will see full scale remodels.
Stores will also introduce upgrades such as digital ordering kiosks, which allow customers to skip the lines to registers, and new table locators that are scanned at the kiosks and track where customers sit down so workers can bring food straight to their tables.
Customers will also be able to order through their mobile devices and get curbside pickup, so they can skip the drive-through.
With their grand reopening Oct. 4, the McDonald’s in Bethalto, Illinois, is one of the locations to receive this upgrade. In fact, it is only one of 13 stores out of 518 in the Midwest Region to receive the futuristic features.
“I think they are a good idea because you can go in and order what you want right away instead of having to wait in a line,” said current L&C student Morgan Crull. “I have used them every time since they got them, and I go at least once a week.”
Many younger customers are enjoying a new and exciting way to order food,with children enthusiastically ordering for their entire families on the new kiosks.
However, the initiative has been met with mixed feelings by others.
“The younger generation like them; it is the older generation that refuses to use them,” said Natalie Hayes, L&C graduate and current McDonald’s worker.
And, while some customers are liking the changes, many workers are concerned these updates, especially the kiosks, may be McDonald’s way of cutting workers hours, or their jobs altogether, so the business can minimize operating costs while maximizing profits.
“It is a way to steal jobs,” said L&C graduate and former McDonald’s worker Jasmine Akers. “Corporate pays a lump sum of money for a computer and then that is it. No pay, no overtime, no vacation or insurance. Just every now and then someone comes out and updates them.”
Job security is an issue many fast food workers face, with declining sales in recent years and an economy that has made cooking at home more affordable. This has been even more of a concern for McDonald’s workers, with 2015 being the first year since at least the 1970s that the chain has closed more stores than it opened, according to USA Today.
“I actually don’t think they are stealing jobs, because with the schedule and staff, there’s always the same amount of people working in the store,” said General Manager Mark Harlan. “What we’re using them for now versus when we started; we’re using them as a second option for ordering, not the only option. The majority of people are still going to the front line registers.”\
“I think at this time it is an experiment, but once the older generation phases out to our generation, who are more tech savvy, they will get rid of front line workers,” she said.
Harlan doesn’t see the same future for the franchise.
“The frontline worker as you know it is more of a guest experience worker,” he said. “The idea is to transition from this person behind the counter to going out and greeting guests and taking orders to them.”
The example he gave is if a customer goes to fill their drink after ordering and their food is ready, instead of them walking back to the counter and looking for their food, the worker would bring it to them at the drink station or take it to their table for them.
“The idea is to change the customer experience, when we’re staffed properly, they will go and refill drinks, talk to the guests and get feedback, so the customer gets more of a five star experience instead of the normal fast food one,” Harlan said. “McDonald’s wants to be number one in customer service, so you can’t ever take the person out of that. The machine will never be able to provide that customer satisfaction, the genuine smile and thank you.”