TAMPA — A McDonald’s Corp. restaurant in Wesley Chapel is among a select few nationwide to test a distinctly new way for McDonald’s customers to order food: Via a digital kiosk.
The touchscreen system stands in the main lobby of the restaurant and allows customers to customize nearly every item on the menu, from burgers to milkshakes, which is part of a major drive at the fast-food giant to better compete with upcoming rivals like Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Dunkin Donuts and Five Guys Enterprises LLC.
“This is the first step toward teaching our customers that we are able to create a truly customizable McDonald’s,” said John Frost, the owner/operator of a test site McDonald’s restaurant at 27643 S.R. 54 that unveiled the kiosks to customers quietly last week. “From here, we can go so many places, like different forms of payment and mobile apps.”
The Wesley Chapel site merges two huge test projects at McDonald’s: A “Create Your Taste” option that lets customers pick and choose items and toppings on food, and the digital kiosk ordering system, which has become somewhat common in France, and more widely tested in California. Only about six sites nationwide have both setups, Frost said, including his.
With burgers, for instance, customers can pick every individual item on a fresh-made quarter-pound burger, including the variety of cheeses and bun style, plus sauces, guacamole, jalapeños, grilled mushrooms, bacon, tortilla strips and crinkle-cut pickles among other choices. The Wesley Chapel site is offering both brioche style and ciabatta-style buns baked fresh on site.
After completing their order and making payment at the kiosk, customers pick up a digital “puck,” pick a seat inside the restaurant and McDonald’s staff then bring out the burger, served open-face in a metal mesh basket to display the various ingredients. The puck wirelessly tells the kitchen staff to which table to deliver food. (Customers paying cash can go to the typical counter cashiers.)
The system also takes orders for drinks and french fries, and works at breakfast as well.
The test represents a dramatic departure for McDonald’s, which has long been able to customize burgers, though the company has never broadly promoted the ability.
Frost rebuilt the Wesley Chapel site a year ago, and devoted extra kitchen space for tests like these, including a separate food prep workspace where cooks separately grill burgers, add toppings and ring a hotel-style bell for servers to pickup. The process can take up to 10 minutes for a burger, Frost said, but typically takes much less, and compares to 90 seconds or less for standard items. Frost added 15 extra employees to handle the process, and they’re responsible for greeting guests, showing them how the kiosk works and clearing tables after guests leave.
Frost said the test is in early stages, but he’s already seen a “significant bump” up in average ticket totals from the kiosk system, though he’ll wait to see more data before committing to any wider rollout of the system.
“I like it a lot,” said Lytetia Thomas, who brought her 4-year-old daughter for lunch, and typically eats at McDonald’s once a week. “I love being able to change everything. I tried a burger with pepper jack cheese and spicy mayo, which had just enough bite. Maybe people will like it because they don’t have to wait in line with people waiting behind them, too.”
Using self-serve kiosks also puts McDonald’s more squarely in competition with some of its fiercest rivals, including more upscale convenience stores like Wawa Inc. which uses self-serve digital kiosks.
For McDonald’s, Thomas had better news, saying “I’m sure I’ll end up spending more here than I usually do.”