McD’s gets decidedly mixed reactions to its robot servers

Discussion
Photo: McDonald’s
Dec 27, 2022

McDonald’s last week opened its first partially automated restaurant, with machines handling everything from taking orders to delivering the food. The opening sparked both positive and negative responses on social media.

McDonald’s said in a December blog post about the pilot in Fort Worth, “The features — inside and outside — are geared toward customers who are planning to dine at home or on the go.”

Inside, a delivery pick-up room enables couriers to retrieve orders “quickly and conveniently.” Customers can place their orders at kiosks and obtain them at a pick-up shelf. No seating is available.

Outside the restaurant are several parking spaces dedicated to curbside order pick-up, as well as designated parking spaces for delivery drivers. A separate “Order Ahead Lane” enables those who order early enough through the McDonald’s app to skip the traditional Drive Thru line and receive their orders via a conveyor belt.

Humans still prepare the food. Keith Vanecek, the franchisee operating the test restaurant, said, “The technology in this restaurant not only allows us to serve our customers in new, innovative ways, it gives our restaurant team the ability to concentrate more on order speed and accuracy, which makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone.”

While “considerably smaller” than a traditional McDonald’s restaurant, a McDonald’s spokesperson told The Guardian that staffing is comparable to that of a typical location.

@foodiemunster

@McDonald’s has a new test concept

♬ Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms

A TikTok video documenting the experience from @foodiemunster has generated more than 1.3 million downloads.

Among the responses to the video was one predicting that automation would lead to a loss of “millions of jobs.” Many commenters linked the change to the need for higher minimum wages. Others lamented the loss of human assistance. One stated, “Oh no first we have to talk with Siri and Google [and] now we have to talk to another computer.”

Another remarked, “No thanks. I love the people that work there. I want to hear voices and see faces. I want to see smiles at both windows!!!!”

Some, however, celebrated the innovation as a move towards faster and more accurate orders, and saw the staff benefiting from being able to focus on less-tedious tasks. One joked, “Robots don’t play on their phones while people are waiting in line. I wonder what the minimum wage is for a robotic technician.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the efficiencies gained from an automated restaurant such as McDonald’s pilot offset any aspects lost from removing human interaction? How important is human contact to the fast-food experience?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"McDonald's isn't a restaurant. It's an assembly line. So I can see why robotics would be explored as a solution."
"You are looking at the future. Just as passengers of airlines struggled when online booking was introduced, so will be the experience of automated and digitized experiences..."
"Man, that’s cold and it’s not even as interesting as a theme park queue. I suppose people who chose self-checkouts to avoid people will love this concept, too. Not me, though."

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14 Comments on "McD’s gets decidedly mixed reactions to its robot servers"


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Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

McDonald’s isn’t a restaurant. It’s an assembly line. So I can see why robotics would be explored as a solution. Except for one thing. Has anybody ever eaten a cold Big Mac and fries? At least provide some seating, so fast and easy ordering can turn into fast eating. The microwave is not the Big Mac’s best friend.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

You are looking at the future. Just as passengers of airlines struggled when online booking was introduced, so will be the experience of automated and digitized experiences, such as what McDonald’s is piloting. It will be a matter of time before the convenience and efficiency wins out over some of the McDonald’s experience. As it grows in popularity, McDonald’s (and any other retailer) will have to strike a balance between automation and human-to-human interactions. Customers still want to know there is a human to talk to (at least for now) when they want and need to.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I have never thought about McDonald’s as a place for human interaction. What is the purpose of this QSR? Fast! Convenient! Cheap! The customer will be happy if automation helps McDonald’s meet those objectives better.

I see the day when humans will not even prepare food. This is McDonald’s — If a customer wants something a little more than a food factory, they can go to the local diner.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Great assessment Gene! It will just be a matter of time before whatever can be automated is automated. As consumers, we are becoming trained to assume the responsibility for placing our orders and paying via our mobile phones and the rest of the operations can be automated.

John Hyman
Guest
1 month 4 days ago

I wonder how expending large amounts of capital on robotics will reduce the price of my Big Mac? And is that robotic assembly line worker less expensive than a fast food line worker?

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The big problem in our society is the less expensive fast food line worker.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I understand the need to respond in regard to $20+ hour wage requests but I think you remove the customer service aspect from the equation and customers like that interaction.
Are the humans that work there managed by a computer?

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Two thumbs down on the robotics. At our McDonald’s recently, a clerk said with a big smile “You two are my favorite old people.” You’ve gotta love it.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Man, that’s cold and it’s not even as interesting as a theme park queue. I suppose people who chose self-checkouts to avoid people will love this concept, too. Not me, though. I’m with Cathy, I like the interaction with the McDonald’s team members.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

McDonald’s model is based on efficiency, which is why the offering, processes and proposition are all consistent and streamlined. Automation is the logical next step in removing costs and ensuring McDonald’s can continue to deliver great value for money. Yes there is a human cost in terms of lost jobs, but that’s the price of progress. Ultimately, however, the customer will determine how far and fast this is rolled out. If people miss the human interaction or if quality goes down then McDonald’s will soon be told about it!

Al McClain
Staff

It’s the way of the world, and retail. Automation continues – two steps forward, one back. Test and learn to see what the public will accept. When McDonald’s introduced automated ordering kiosks a few years ago, some customers (mainly us old-timers) flipped out. Now, most customers are familiar with them and use them because they are easier and save everyone time.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’m still trying to grasp what “somewhat major” means, nevertheless I went with it (not because of the semantics, but rather its place on the scale): everyone, with the notable exception of shareholders/franchisees, will have a reason to complain about this … but probably not too much. But guess what? The former’s opinions have been supersized.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

It is an oversized vending machine. I think the issue is that it is formatted to look like a restaurant with robots. If the whole thing is tested in a mall food court with just an ordering wall and food delivery, would it draw such a reaction?

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

People who order from McD’s and other QSR restaurants want high quality food, at a reasonable price, quickly. This solution checks each of these boxes while also allowing for better focus on producing their orders. Win, win, win — what is there not to like about this solution?

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"McDonald's isn't a restaurant. It's an assembly line. So I can see why robotics would be explored as a solution."
"You are looking at the future. Just as passengers of airlines struggled when online booking was introduced, so will be the experience of automated and digitized experiences..."
"Man, that’s cold and it’s not even as interesting as a theme park queue. I suppose people who chose self-checkouts to avoid people will love this concept, too. Not me, though."

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