Every now and then, whether for convenience or a longing for grease, I pop into McDonald’s for a quick bite. The first time I went to a McDonald’s was when I was in high school during the mid-seventies. Burgers were much cheaper then and were housed in squeaky Styrofoam containers that will take a gazillion years to decompose in the landfills where they were dumped.
Back then the fast food chain employed thousands of young people. You stood in line until it was your turn to place your order. Unless you requested something special, the counter person retrieved your order, put it in a bag or on a tray, took your money and returned your change with a smile. Perhaps asking if you wanted an apple pie with your order. Upon finishing, patrons were encouraged to bring their trash laden tray to the garbage can. I have a friend who adamantly refused to take his tray to the garbage container.
Then we sunk to a point where the concept of ‘fast’ went right out the window. After placing your order you were asked to step aside while the next person in line spoke to the counter person, then took their place with you to wait. With any luck another staffer brought you the correct order, but experience taught one to always check. This was slow and often not terribly accurate. They also gave you a cup so you could fill your own drink.
My local McDonald’s now has do-it-yourself order placing. Several computer terminals with screens, called kiosks, allow customers to build their own order and pay for it. They then take the receipt to the pickup counter and wait for their number to come up. Not as personal, and not a whole bunch faster either. Like the automated check-in at the airport, it does give an illusion of efficiency.
It dawned on me as I built my order on the terminal touch screen that McDonald’s is still training its customers to carry out tasks. No longer is it merely a matter of busing your own table or getting your own drink. Now they are training us to be counter people and ‘take’ our own orders. I almost asked myself if I wanted an apple pie with my order.
Can the day be far off when McDonald’s figures out a way to have its much valued customers place and pay for their own orders, then fill them by actually grilling their own burgers and frying their own fries, getting their own drinks, then busing their own trays? Frying stations could be located around the store (McDonald’s calls them stores, not restaurants; I find that telling) with a skeleton crew of management to instruct first-time users. A group of deep fryers for fries rounds out the experience. I have a hunch that like Google’s driverless cars, McDonald’s would love to have employee-less outlets. Or maybe they will go the McDrone route …