Barry Klatt

403-271-0600
Barry Klatt
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Self-service on order at McDonald’s

Christine Dobby, Financial Post, May 18, 2011

It may be trickier to ask for extra pickles, but you may soon be able to avoid the judgmental look of a cashier as you supersize your order of fries.

McDonald’s Europe has announced plans to replace some of its cashiers with touch-screen terminals and cash-free payment, a move that will likely play well with consumers looking for options that offer convenience and a sense of control.

Research shows people who use self-service options — already available in many retail outlets in Canada including grocery stores, Canadian Tire and Home Depot — believe it takes less time than waiting for a cashier.

“And at the end of the day, perception is reality,” said Brent Barr, an instructor at the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.

What’s more, Mr. Barr said, most young people no longer consider paying in cash and the move to payment by swipe card is a reality.

“More and more our society has moved away from the physical cash and moved into the plastic world,” he said. “This is one next step in making it easy for that person to do what they’d like to do.”

Steve Easterbrook, president of McDonald’s Europe, told the Financial Times this week the global fast food giant plans to introduce the self-service ordering at its 7,000 European restaurants. Around the world, retailers will be watching McDonald’s to see how this latest experiment works out, Mr. Barr said.

“They were one of the first in the fast food world and as a result they’ve always been perceived to be an innovator in the market place,” he said, adding that other outlets will be considering whether to try it as well.

The model may work well at McDonald’s given the consistency of its menu and the fact customers generally know what to expect and what they would like to order, he said.

Kaan Yigit, president of Toronto-based technology consultancy Solutions Research Group, agreed the self-serve model, which he said is fundamentally driven by economics and cost-savings, may work well at McDonald’s.

“They [self-serve systems] are best-suited to environments where transactions are simple and predictable. They are more difficult to implement in settings where there are many customizable options or when the product or service is not uniform,” he said.

Parry Sadorsky, associate professor of economics at the Schulich School of Business at York University, said he believes we will soon order food from touch screens in Canada, but cautioned the move could have negative implications for employment.

“All you need is one big chain to do this,” he said, noting that it would likely be tested in major U.S. markets before arriving north of the border.

“It’s good for corporate profits, but not very good for the overall labour force, because you’re going to take out many of the entry-level and low-skill jobs,” Mr. Sadorsky said, adding that it is often those types of jobs that make up the majority of new jobs created each month.

Plus, many young people rely on employment at places such as McDonald’s to get their first work experience, he said.

However, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Ltd. is not about to follow its European counterpart’s lead — yet.

“We have no plans currently to implement a similar ordering system,” said the company’s national media relations manager Louis Payette.

“We’re constantly looking at ways to enhance the customer experience when it comes to speed and service and convenience,” Mr. Payette said, adding, “Our customers seem pretty pleased with the fast and friendly service they’re getting.”

What’s more, he said, the company is in “growth mode” with regard to its work force, pointing to the almost 5,000 employees McDonald’s Canada hired on April 19 as part of a National Hiring Day event.

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