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Are McDonald’s kiosks better than cashiers?



McDonald's KioskMcDonald’s is bringing ordering kiosks to more of its stores.Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • Order automation is sweeping the quick-service industry, with digital kiosks and mobile-ordering apps being introduced at major chains like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Panera.
  • A recent MSN poll suggests that most Americans prefer cashiers over automated kiosks.
  • But automated ordering can help wait times and improve order accuracy, and it doesn’t negatively affect labor as much as some think. 

Gone are the heady days of cashiers asking if you want your order “supersized.”

Not only has the infamous upgrade gone by the wayside, but cashiers at fast-food restaurants are becoming increasingly uncommon. McDonald’s started rolling out ordering kiosks at its US locations in 2015, and the chain hasn’t looked back since: by 2020, most of its 14,000 locations will have kiosks installed. 

It plans to add the kiosks to 1,000 stores every quarter for the next two years, according to CNBC.

BTIG analyst Peter Saleh wrote in a note to investors on Thursday that McDonald’s shift to kiosks and mobile ordering could help the chain win back nearly $2.7 billion in lost sales.

However, a recent poll conducted by Business Insider’s partner MSN suggests that diners aren’t big fans of automated kiosks: 78% of customers said they would be less inclined to go to a restaurant that has automated ordering kiosks. 

The popular narrative is that kiosks and mobile ordering are here to take jobs and hours away from underpaid cashiers, ultimately saving companies money in the face of rising labor costs — but the data suggests that isn’t true. It may be true for some, but most chains are simply reallocating labor behind the scenes. And with such a tight labor market, many chains are struggling to hire and retain customer-facing employees. 

Americans don’t seem too threatened by automation in general. Nationally, only 21% of responders to MSN’s poll believe their job may one day be done by machines. And restaurants like automated ordering because of it offers increased accuracy and efficiency as more chains look towards cashless options. 

But for now, a question remains: are kiosks, in fact, better for customers? I headed to a McDonald’s to find out:

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