Would you like table service with that?
McDonald's observers and investors have been looking for signs that the restaurant chain has a plan to continue its momentum after posting five consecutive quarters of growth. The answer appears to be its new table-service restaurant concept, which the chain said has boosted sales and customer satisfaction stores in its initial markets, including parts of California, the U.K., Australia, Canda, Germany and France.
McDonald's is now rolling it out to Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.
The stores are being updated with more modern interiors and Wi-Fi, but the biggest change is table service. Customers can order either at the cashiers or on digital kiosks in which they are able to customize their order with, for example, a gourmet maple-bacon burger and an "artisanal" bun. Kiosks will accept debit and credit cards, Apple Pay and Android Pay. After they place their order, a crew member will bring the food to them.
Next year, McDonald's said it will also add mobile ordering and payment. Mobile payment is already available in some of the company's international markets, while the U.S. has lagged behind.
McDonald's said that in the U.K. the new restaurants have resulted in 8% sales growth in the stores and 4% in the drive-thru. ("A Big Mac tastes better in a reimaged restaurant. It just does," said U.K. Managing Director Paul Pomroy in a video shown at the event.)
McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbook said that historically the company "asked the customer to fit around our business model." He said that while that "stood us in very good stead" for 60 years, today consumers expect businesses to adapt to their needs.
"We are putting more control in the hands of customers," said Mr. Easterbook, includng "how they order, how they pay and having the option of how they are served."
"Ordering can be stressful at McDonald's," he said, noting that table service allows parents with children, for example, to be seated quickly rather than stand on line balancing trays and strollers.
McDonald's said that rather than cut crew members via automation it is "investing in people," and training them to be part of the "hospitality experience." Mr. Easterbrook noted that the crew members will be roaming the dining rooms and assisting patrons with the kiosks.
"This is a huge opportunity to elevate the consumer experience," said Chris Kempczinski, incoming president, McDonald's USA, noting that the company has applied best practices from the restaurants it which it tested the concept. As for the new U.S. test markets, they were chosen purposefully because they are "opinion-spreading markets."
Within those markets, McDonald's will be running local TV and other advertising to introduce the concept, with campaigns handled by its regional agencies. And for those who can't visit? The chain will allow them to do so via virtual reality with Oculus glasses at events.