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McDonald’s pilots faster ordering, payment solutions at drive-thru

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Drive-thru is already a streamlined way of picking up fast-food orders, but McDonald’s wants to digitally increase the convenience factor.

The fast-food giant is testing a number of drive-thru concepts and initiatives at some of its 25,000 global drive-thru locations. These include automating ordering and payments by identifying customers at the display screen. In addition, new technology will alert store associates to prep orders when customers are nearby, with dedicated parking spaces helping to ensure fast pick up.

McDonald’s is also piloting a new express drive-thru lane that lets customers using its app skip the line and get their food even faster, with some stores delivering express drive-thru orders via conveyor belt. Furthermore, the retailer is testing a smaller restaurant footprint called “On-the-Go.” This format would focus exclusively on efficiency, featuring drive-thru, takeaway, and delivery with limited or no dine-in seating. 

McDonald’s is following up on two technology investments it made in 2019 to enhance its drive-thru experience. In September 2019, the retailer purchased Apprente, a Silicon Valley-based conversational voice-based technology startup, to enable “faster, simpler and more accurate” drive-thru ordering.

This acquisition followed McDonald’s March 2019 purchase of Israeli startup Dynamic Yield, whose technology will enable the retailer to vary its outdoor menu displays to show food tailored to such factors as time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items. It will also allow the chain to instantly suggest and display additional items to customers based on their current selections.

McDonald’s has formed a new, internal, integrated team called McD Tech Labs, based in Silicon Valley, initially focused on enhancing technology for use in the drive-thru.

Other quick-service retailers are also applying technology and store design innovation to the drive-thru experience. Chipotle is launching a store concept similar to On-the-Go, called Chipotle Digital Kitchen, which does not include a dining room or front service line and only fills advance digital orders. Restaurant Brands International Inc., which owns and franchises the Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes chains, is installing more than 40,000 digital drive-thru screens with predictive selling capabilities, integration with restaurant loyalty programs, and the ability for remote, contactless payment.

McDonald’s, which began offering drive-thru ordering in 1975, hopes to offer an upgraded drive-thru experience at more than 10,000 restaurants worldwide. The company says approximately 70% of sales in its top markets are occurring at the drive-thru during COVID-19, and that it has increased drive-thru customer satisfaction in its top markets by reducing speed of service by an average of 30 seconds since 2018.

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