By Lisa Leinberger
McDonald’s has been changing the very nature of quick-service since it got its start in 1948.
In its earliest days, the company streamlined and revolutionized cooking hamburgers using an assembly line, so customers received hot food quickly. In the 1950s, McDonald’s catered to an increasingly mobile population in love with its cars and long family road trips. Franchises set up shop along freeways and in busy urban centers so customers could pull in, walk up to the counter and order the same food they could order anywhere else in the country.
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It was a less complicated time. Mark Ray, a longtime franchise owner in Spokane, started working for the company 54 years ago as a crew member and remembers.
“It was simple,” he said. “Busy, but simple.” He remembers they sold hamburgers, fries and milkshakes. Sometimes customers ordered double burgers, but that was about it. Customers ordered at the front counter.
In 1975, the chain changed the way customers could order their food when it added its first drive-thru in Arizona. Customers no longer had to get out of their cars to order lunch or dinner.
The menu changed and expanded over the years, but up until recently, customers could only order inside or in the drive-thru.
Today, customers can order on their mobile phones and have it delivered to their car when they arrive. Inside, they can bypass the counter, order from a kiosk and a crew member will bring their sandwiches to the table when they’re ready. Or they can order McDonald’s using Uber Eats and get their food delivered to their home or office.
The restaurant chain is calling all of this “Experience of the Future” or EOTF. In Washington state, McDonald’s started rolling out these changes about two years ago. At the end of April, the chain had 90 stores on EOTF in the state. By the end of 2018, they hope to have 71 more.
“Our goal is to be completely flipped and modernized by 2020,” said Lindsay Rainey, brand reputation manager for McDonald’s. “It’s all a part of building a better McDonald’s.”
Rolling out new technology
In Spokane, the store at 3530 N. Sullivan Road recently completed a remodel to accommodate these changes. The local franchise celebrated its grand re-opening on May 2.
General Manager Amanda McRae said new technology has changed the way they operate, from employees punching in to serving customers at their tables.
Her crew clocks in for their shift using their thumbprints. She can take inventory and order stock using an app on her tablet.
“This job has taught me a lot about computers,” she said. Orders on the mobile app pop up on their order screens as soon as a customer completes the purchase on his or her phone. There is a tablet in the front counter space dedicated to Uber Eats and one for mobile orders.
The new technology means employees need to be trained to troubleshoot problems with the hardware. McRae said she took an online training course. She now knows what questions to ask and what the parts of the computer are when something goes wrong.
“I know what a VGA cable is,” she said, referring to a video graphics array cable. “If you don’t stay in tune with technology, you’re going to be left behind.”
More technology does not mean smaller teams
With minimum wage increasing and its adoption of new technology, many may assume that McDonald’s is eliminating positions. The opposite is true, and the company says its Experience the Future stores are creating more jobs.
Brittany Annett is a crew member working in a newly minted position: she’s a Guest Experience Leader. Annett welcomes customers, helps them use the kiosk to place their order and makes sure everyone has a great experience.
“Hi, guys, how’s it going?” she asks customers when they enter the restaurant. “Would you like to try ordering from our kiosk today?”
Customers order from the kiosk and can create any kind of sandwich they like. They can choose their bun, their protein and their condiments. When they finish ordering, they take a number to their table. When their food is ready, Annett or another crew member delivers it to the table.
“I absolutely love it,” Annett said of her new position. It allows her more one-on-one time with the customers.
Les Merriman is a supervisor of five stores in the Spokane area. He says Experience of the Future has created new points of sale and with it new positions in the store that need covering, at the kiosk, for Uber Eats and mobile ordering and serving traditional ordering in the drive-thru and at the counter.
“It’s really impacted the way we do business,” he said.
McRae agrees. She said two buses of students unexpectedly stopped by recently after the location of a high school game was changed. Ordinarily, this could have been a very hectic experience for everyone, but the students lined up at the kiosk to place their orders, making everything go smoother.
“We have never cleared out a bus so fast,” McRae said.
What hasn’t changed
Owner-operator Mark Ray has seen firsthand just how much the franchise has evolved since he first signed on 54 years ago. While he now describes the business as “complicated,” when he thinks of all the changes over the years, he knows that at its heart, McDonald’s is still the same.
“We want to take care of the customer the way they want to be taken care of,” he says.