McDonald's, late to mobile ordering, seeks to avoid pitfalls

Wed Mar 15, 2017 7:46am EDT
 
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By Lisa Baertlein

CHICAGO (Reuters) - McDonald's Corp has begun testing its long-awaited U.S. mobile ordering app, with the goal of avoiding the kinds of service hiccups that have haunted digital debuts by companies such as Starbucks Corp.

Digital ordering has been challenging for many restaurant chains and their customers. Domino's Pizza Inc, now the industry leader, took years to perfect it. Starbucks' technology took far less time, but in January the chain said mobile orders poured in faster than they could be processed, creating backlogs that drove away time-crunched walk-in customers.

McDonald's sees mobile as a way to win back customers after four straight years of traffic declines, but the project is not without risks.

"We can't impact the speed or the quality of our food," Jim Sappington, McDonald's executive vice president of operations, digital and technology, told Reuters in an interview at a temporary warehouse space in Chicago's West Loop where the company has built a new high tech restaurant. It features a redesigned kitchen to speed order flow and show off its technology initiatives.

If its famous french fries are served cold or if mobile customers have to wait for orders, "you get a question of 'Why did I use the app?'," Sappington said. "Our focus is to make the overall experience clearly better."

McDonald's said that automating more orders should cut transaction times, reduce errors and free up workers to do things like deliver food to tables or cars in spots designated for mobile orders.

"It's better to be right than to be first to market," McDonald's Chief Executive Steve Easterbrook said recently.

The fast-food chain said it began testing its mobile ordering and payment app at 29 restaurants in Monterey and Salinas, California, on Wednesday.   Continued...

 
McDonald's self-service kiosks are seen in a prototype restaurant housed in a warehouse in Chicago's West Loop area, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 1, 2017.  REUTERS/Lisa Baertlein