Food gets faster with Speedpass

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McDonald's Corp. is encouraging customers to dine and dash in a test with ExxonMobil Corp. using its Speedpass transponder unit.

The six-month experiment is being conducted at nine Chicago-area McDonald's restaurants and 15 cooperating Mobil service stations. Through the program, McDonald's customers simply wave the Speedpass wand through specially marked readers at the fast-food restaurants or swipe their credit or debit cards in readers at the counter. Charges are automatically posted to the credit card company.

The program marks the first time ExxonMobil has made its Speedpass available to another company, and denotes a deeper relationship between the two partners. McDonald's operates co-branded units with a number of oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Texaco, BP Amoco and Chevron.

The gasoline marketer introduced Speedpass in 1997. Currently, 4.3 million consumers have the Speedpasses. While not directly related, the test is similar to a program the Golden Arches began in Western markets using tollway transponder units.

"It eliminates a stop at the pay window and is more convenient for customers," said a McDonald's spokeswoman. The fast-feeder has acknowledged it is struggling with longer customer wait times following the installation of its new kitchens. The spokeswoman couldn't estimate the time-savings expected as a result of using the pass, but according to internal company documents, target times at the cashier station now range from 10 to 15 seconds.

PROMOTION EFFORT

To encourage consumers to obtain the Speedpass wands, the companies launched a "Wave to Win" in-store promotion that offers chances to win $5,000 cash, free gasoline at the participating stations and free or discounted premium menu items at McDonald's.

Customers enroll in the program via the Internet (www.speedpass.com), telephone or by asking for an enrollment form at the participating units. The promotion runs through Dec. 17 and is backed by direct mail, newspaper inserts and point-of-purchase materials created by The Event Group, Chicago. The direct mailer, sent to Mobile Speedpass customers at zipcodes near the participating units, includes a coupon for a free Big Xtra and a coupon for a free detachable key chain at McDonald's.

Signs in drive-thru lanes prompt customers to "Have cash or Speedpass ready," and some owner/operators added rooftop banners.

Contributing: Jean Halliday

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