McDonald’s Touchscreen Kiosks Take ‘Fast’ Out of ‘Fast Food’

Integrators who install technology that end users won’t use or can’t figure out are only hurting themselves in the long run.

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I’ve never been known by my family or friends—or people within the systems integration world—as a guy who’s on the cutting edge of technology, but you’d think I wouldn’t have any issues placing an order on a touchscreen kiosk inside a Boston area McDonald’s.

Think again.

I was on my way to a Red Sox game Saturday night and in a bit of a rush to meet my friend at the ballpark. For some reason, I had a craving for a quarter-pounder, so I followed my craving to the Golden Arches in Kenmore Square. It’s a short walk from Fenway Park, but I knew my time was short before we were supposed to meet. Little did I know I was walking into The Matrix. I opened the door and saw before me three touchscreen kiosks that I didn’t know at the time would lead me to be several minutes late.

And I wasn’t alone. Hard to believe the multibillion-dollar clown-run conglomerate has been trying to patent the slogan, “The Simpler, The Better” given the struggles I and others there experienced.

McDonald's, touchscreen kiosks

You’d think ordering a cheeseburger, French fries and a drink wouldn’t require any sort of training or advanced degree, but I was among many who were perplexed, and maybe overwhelmed, by the prospect of placing my order on a machine when, over my shoulder and behind the counter, were two McDonald’s employees who didn’t seem interested in helping us expedite the process.

It literally took me several minutes to place my order, which seems counter-intuitive to the purpose of the touchscreen kiosks and the fact I was ordering food at a fast-food restaurant. Then the wait to get my food went for almost 10 minutes. I’m just glad I wasn’t the only one struggling to understand that a quarter pounder is considered a “large” sandwich in Mickey D’s vernacular.

The point of all this is not to highlight my technological incompetence; there are better ways to do that, which many of you know and have seen for yourselves. It’s to say integrators, and even end users, need to think about the impact of the technology they’re installing on the intended audience.

This McDonald’s—and thousands like it—are installing these touchscreen kiosks with the point of allowing customers to customize their orders and expedite the process, but the exact opposite was happening in my visit. I’m not planning a full-scale McDonald’s boycott as a result of my experience, but I will probably think twice about visiting this particular location in the future.

Technology should be about making people’s lives easier and better, not about sending them through a frustrating experience that also bog down what’s supposed to be a more streamlined result.

Do you dazzle your customers with fancy technology without thinking about whether they’ll actually be able to use it once you walk out the door? If so, you’re doing more harm than good to them. It doesn’t have to be a touchscreen kiosk in a fast-food place. It could be a control system in a board room or a video wall in a hotel lobby. If people can’t figure out how to use the technology you install for them, they’ll stop using it and eventually stop calling you when they need an upgrade.

About the Author


Craig MacCormack is the former executive editor of Commercial Integrator (2011-2021). He's a veteran journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering local and national news and sports as well as architecture and engineering before joining Commercial Integrator.

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  • phil c says:

    A Tex-Mex “fast” food franchise in Atlanta tried kiosks about 20 years ago. Huge fiasco: customers couldn’t figure out where items were, how to order, what the prices were, how to get an item with something taken off (no onions) or something added (extra onions); orders were lost, incorrect or couldn’t get to the person who placed the order; staff couldn’t figure out how to correct problems. Kiosks lasted about a month at half a dozen locations, then pulled out. Live and blunder!

  • Damian W says:

    The author is spot-on about these kiosks being difficult to use and I’ve been programming computers since elementary school. I’m trying to order a bacon cheeseburger, but it’s not listed under the burgers menu? It’s not under Everyday Values either and there’s no way to search for an item by name. At this point I’m irritated I can’t just tell the cashier my order and start thinking about going somewhere else. Promotional items? There it is, the only item under that particular menu. Who exactly did McDonald’s test these kiosks with? They seem to be there to make things easier for McDonald’s and not the customer. Customers should have the option to use one, but should still be able to place their order with a human. That would be the customer-friendly thing to do.

  • Jim Fung says:

    I think the switch to kiosks wasn’t necessary but is quite helpful for people who want to customize. It’s being paired with a move to their bringing food to your table after ordering. The problem with your experience and how it differed from mine is the human element. At the McDonald’s I went to, if you needed help or someone to take your order, an employee wandering the kiosks was right there offering and available. They could just take your order at a kiosk. That human element is still important. I think your franchise didn’t implement the kiosks the way McDonald’s wanted, which is with a human, customer-service element rather than just letting people figure it out lost. This just takes getting used to, like self check-in at airlines. It’s not going to drive people away from McDonald’s. I also don’t see the harm in fast food being a couple minutes longer if it’s higher-quality and done right. McDonald’s sales and visits are actually up, and the kiosks seem to be part of that story.

  • Leslie Mandic says:

    I just found my first one today and 3 /3 customers including myself were quite TICKED. not only did the clerk initially not want to assist us, as he refused to wait on any of us in a traditional line. One woman had been fooling around for a couple min, trying to remove onions and such and was so frustrated, I was surprised she didn’t walk out. All I wanted was a $1 ice tea and that was an issue. Hell, It would be faster to just type in our own orders.
    The another thing I don’t like is touching a potentially nasty screen and then eating with those fingers. at least the money in my pocket has had a chance to leave germs in there and I don’t know, I am not in a hurry to use one. Im trying to give up McD’s anyway so this is just another reason to pass.

  • Ray says:

    I ran into one of those McDonald’s in St. Petersburg. Couldn’t figure it out. Staff had to help me. If they install one of those things in my local McDonald’s, I will stop going there. What a stupid idea.

  • Chris O says:

    I went in to a McDonald’s today. I was offered the use of the newly installed kiosks. I refused and refused loudly for all to hear. I encourage everyone to do the same.

  • Ashley Oliver says:

    I visited a McDonald’s kiosk for the first time today and it was the worst idea that they have ever had! If I am only 30 years old and couldn’t figure it out, then how do they expect the elderly to do it! I felt like I had to work for my food and pay for it too. They had no way of adding on extra condiments. And I had an employee hovering over me The entire time making me feel rushed. And when I got my food, it was cold. I will never visit that McDonald’s ever again. The only good idea they have come up with lately is Uber eats. Which will likely be the only way I Will order McDonald’s ever again.

  • Richard says:

    I go to McDonalds once or twice per week with my 9YO son. There is a bit of a learning curve on the touch screens, but after using a few times, its easy and fast to order. Status screens show how your order is progressing and table delivery makes for an improved experience.

  • Paul says:

    The touchscreen kiosks have been out in California McDonalds for over a year now. I’m in various McD’s several times a week and I see the kiosks getting very little use. Right now I’m in one and a couple that’s using the screen is taking for longer to complete their order than three customers who ordered at the counter while the couple was at it. I never use them myself as I’m one of those people with “zombie fingers” (=touchscreens cant handle my fingertips correctly) and I’ll happily stand in line to order at the counter instead. Conversely, if an overzealous McD employee tries to convince me to use the kiosk rather than serve me at the counter, I’ll just go to the next McD instead as there are five along my daily commute.

  • Rick Evans says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only real human interface oriented human put off by this latest tech for tech sake gadgetry. If you’re a regular McD user, I’m not, you’re likely accustomed to a particular order which you might order by number.

    I usually get #6 at Wendy’s; no touchscreen required. On rare occasion when I visit McD it’s a fish filet meal or hotcakes and sausage + coffee. On a recent visit to a McD on Maryland when confronted with the touch screen, my usual not being obvious, I just walked out and went to one without the geek ware. At another one in D.C. There was a young dude directed customers to the kiosk then being available to help them navigate the clumsily designed interface.

    I should also point out, it is on road trips when I usually use fast food places and I don’t want to spend my time techno-training just to get quick meal. My personal observations mirror the author’s namely plenty of puzzled customers slowing down the ordering process.

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