Though not all customers are lovin’ it, those McDonald’s touchscreen kiosks are quickly becoming as much a part of the fast-food giant as Big Macs and fries.
The self-ordering kiosks are already in full swing in Canada, Australia and the U.K. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a CNBC interview earlier this week that it’s time for the U.S. to catch up with the new technology.
The touchscreen system kiosks that allow customers to digitally customize their orders at their own pace will continue to be installed in 1,000 McDonald’s locations each quarter for the next two years.
Tampa Bay’s biggest McDonald’s franchisee, Caspers Co., has already installed the kiosks in 40 of its 54 locations and the rest will be added soon, according to Bob Conigliaro, Caspers’ vice president of community relations.
But the number of stores with kiosks to customize happy meals doesn’t necessarily correlate with happy customers. In a poll released earlier this week by Business Insider’s partner MSN, 78 percent of diners said they were less likely to eat at a restaurant with self-ordering kiosks.
Hardy Williams, 81, of Tampa visits the McDonald’s at 1908 East Hillsborough Ave. in Tampa every day except for Sunday. He said he tried the kiosk before with the help of an employee, but didn’t like it.
"It takes so long sometimes to get your order," Williams said. "To me, it’s like a waste of time."
In 2015, McDonald’s launched the new technology — now seen in other fast-food chains like Five Guys and Panera — in 20 stores across the U.S., including one in Wesley Chapel. Customers can choose and customize their orders for dining in or take away using the digital kiosks, grab a numbered table marker, enter it into the system and, if they use a card, pay at the kiosk. Then, they take a seat and are served tableside.
Since then, they’ve spread to 90 percent of the 200 McDonald’s restaurants in the Tampa Bay area along with stores across the rest of the U.S.
The kiosks can help speed up the ordering process for customers who don’t have to wait in line.
"The average check is a little bit higher from the kiosk than the front counter," said Conigliaro of Caspers. "When a customer is free to order without a line in front of them at the counter, they have more time.
But some Americans fear that the technology will replace the need for cashiers.
Conigliaro said about 70 percent of business comes from the drive-thru window. However, he added, the kiosks are bringing more customers indoors, and with it, the need for more employees.
"The chatter about us replacing cashiers with new kiosks is just not the case," he said.
McDonald’s and its independent franchise owners plan to hire about 18,500 employees in Florida this summer, said Denise Wilson, the brand reputation manager for the company’s Florida locations.
Local customers give the kiosks mixed reviews.
Some other customers, especially older generations, find them difficult or unnecessary to use. According to a 2017 survey by research firm Self Service Index and restaurant marketing company Tillster, customers 65 years and older are the least likely demographic to have previously used digital kiosks and to visit a restaurant that uses them.
Cash-paying customers still have to stand in line at the cash register to pay for their meals. Willie Tolbert, 65, of Tampa, who joins Williams at the Hillsborough Avenue location each week, only pays cash.
"You’ve got to go up there anyway," Tolbert said. "I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about it."
Loretta Decker, 64, of Wesley Chapel is among the fans of the new technology.
She dines at the McDonald’s at 27643 State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel three times a week.
Decker said she’s only used the kiosk once but finds the technology easy to use and convenient on days that the store is crowded and the lines are long.
"It was very efficient," she said. "Very speedy for people who want to go in and out. … It’s accurate. You just have to get used to it."
Elizabeth Massey, 17, and Ashlyn Walters, 16, of Wesley Chapel eat at the same site once a week. Massey said she uses the kiosk every time.
"If you’re in a rush and you use a kiosk, you can just get your food," she said. "I like it because people interaction is scary sometimes."
Walters said the kiosk has its pros and cons.
"It increases productivity of the restaurant," she said. "They’re not always the best if you have a tricky order."
Canard Smith, 17, of St. Petersburg is a new crew member at the McDonald’s located in the Kenwood Historic District at 1020 34th St. N. He uses the kiosks as both a customer and an employee.
"I like them because it keeps the line shorter," Smith said.
Conigliaro said employees are trained as part of the company’s new vision, "Experience of the Future."
"(Crew members) have just lit up with this new opportunity to be themselves and engage with the customers," he said. "The compliments that come in are mostly about the employees."
The changes reflect McDonald’s move toward new technology, as listed in its long-term global growth plan. The company is in the process of phasing in more store renovations, delivery services like Uber Eats and mobile food ordering apps that allow customers to skip the drive-thru and in-store lines.
All of the Caspers locations now have both Uber Eats and mobile food ordering apps. Conigliaro said the 1520 West Kennedy Blvd. location near the University of Tampa has delivered up to 1,000 orders through Uber Eats in one week.
"We are customer-driven in how we evolve," he said.
Contact Hannah Denham at [email protected] Follow @hannah_denham1.