McDonald's Tests Mobile App Ordering That Uses Geo-Fencing to Optimize Food Prep Time

Although it’s late to the mobile ordering trend, McDonald’s today has begun testing an update to its smartphone app that will allow customers to create an order anywhere and pay for it through the app when they arrive at their local McDonald’s. In a bid to avoid customer congestion, long wait lines, and cold food, the app will use geo-fencing to detect when each customer is getting closer to the McDonald’s and alert staff to begin preparing their meal accordingly (via Reuters).

The tests have begun today at 29 McDonald’s locations in Monterey and Salinas, California, and will expand to 51 new locations Spokane, Washington on March 20. Jim Sappington, McDonald’s executive vice president of operations, said that the tests are intended to work out any kinks in the mobile order and pay update before a wide rollout in almost all of the 14,000 U.S. McDonald’s locations by the end of 2017. Around 6,000 others will also get the update in Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Australia, and China.

In the current state of the McDonald’s app [Direct Link] users can browse the menu, get deals, and find nearby locations. Sappington hopes that the update results in an overall experience that’s “clearly better” to use.

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.

While customers will browse the menu and place their order outside of the local McDonald’s, the app is said to ask for an order confirmation and payment “when the customer arrives at the restaurant,” seemingly when the geo-fencing feature kicks in. After that, the kitchen will begin preparing the order. Janna Sampson, a McDonald’s investor, questioned the utility of this process: “If they don’t start your order until you pull in the lot, are you really gaining that much time?”

In the final version of the app, customers will also be able to pick table dining, drive-through, or curb-side delivery when they place their meal orders. McDonald’s competitors like Chick-fil-A include mobile ordering with counter pick-up as well as a QR code-based checkout option. McDonald’s didn’t detail how payments work with its new mobile order update, but traditional credit cards tied to user accounts are expected. Given McDonald’s early embrace of mobile wallets like Apple Pay, those could be included as well.

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