McDonald’s opens its first automated restaurant in Texas

The new test restaurant features conveyor belts, kiosks, and more.

McDonald’s has opened a new highly automated restaurant in Texas, giving customers a first look at the potential future of fast food.

The shake up: Bans on indoor dining early in the pandemic led fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s to serve more people via drive-thru, leading to longer wait times. The number of people ordering through delivery services also surged.

“[Customers] interact with others less in person and more through their digital devices with heightened expectations for the service they receive,” CEO Chris Kempczinski said during an investor update in November 2020.

At the same time, execs announced that they were testing concepts to better meet the needs of post-pandemic customers.

The future of fast food: Those concepts are now debuting at a new highly automated restaurant just outside Fort Worth, Texas.

Automated restaurant
McDonald’s new highly automated restaurant in Texas. Credit: McDonald’s

Instead of placing an order via the mobile app and then either going into the restaurant or waiting in a drive-thru lane or curbside parking spot to get their food, customers can pick it up at the store’s dedicated Drive-Thru Express Lane, where it will be delivered via conveyor belt. 

Since no one in this lane will be placing an order or waiting for food to be made, the hope is that it will move much faster than traditional drive-thru lanes. 

The interior of the highly automated restaurant is smaller than the average McD’s. Customers place orders at a kiosk, rather than through a counter worker, and they grab their food off a shelf. Staff don’t have to take orders or regularly interact with customers.

“The technology in this restaurant not only allows us to serve our customers in new, innovative ways, it gives our restaurant team the ability to concentrate more on order speed and accuracy, which makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone,” said Keith Vanecek, the franchisee operating the test restaurant.

The bottom line: Some have criticized the new highly automated restaurant, arguing that McDonald’s is opting to install expensive automation systems to replace employees.

However, a spokesperson for McDonald’s told the Guardian that the test restaurant has a staff comparable to that of any other store — the difference is that crew members are all focused on making and packaging orders rather than taking or delivering them.

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