While Tanya Holliday was working at a McDonald's to pay her way through college, she assumed one day she'd get a "real job."
That was 40 years ago. Today, Holliday is well past "real." She became the first black woman in 2005 to own a McDonald's in the Philadelphia area, and today she owns nine across the region. On Friday, she unveiled her new-and-improved restaurant at 7500 City Ave., which was remodeled to become the McDonald's of the future — one with decorative upgrades, digital touch-screen ordering kiosks, and table service.
"It's just like Wawa," she said of the ordering process. "Maybe a little bit better."
The renovations are part of a multiyear effort to digitize ordering at thousands of McDonald's restaurants worldwide — there are about 14,000 in the United States — so the chain's image becomes less "Would you like fries with that?" and more "Touch if you'd like to customize that." The company and its franchisees are investing $6 billion this year and next, and have "modernized" about 5,000 restaurants in the U.S. to date. McDonald's CEO and president Steve Easterbrook told CNBC in June that the company is renovating and updating 1,000 restaurants per quarter.
That translates to a $266 million investment to renovate 360 restaurants in Pennsylvania and $155 million to update more than 160 restaurants in New Jersey, according to regional spokesperson Amanda Pisano.
Financial analysts are cheering the move, saying fast-food ordering kiosks will boost sales. That's because the kiosks encourage customization, add-ons and additional purchases, plenty of which are of the high-caloric variety that a person might avoid ordering from a cashier because of embarrassment. No judgmental gaze from a teenage cashier? Make it a large. And add an apple pie while you're at it.
The ordering screens do feel a little bit like Wawa (or honeygrow or Panera), though they're larger and accept card payment right at the kiosk. A user first selects between eating in or taking out, and is then brought to a "main menu" screen with general options like burgers, chicken and fish, salads, and McCafe, which are the restaurant's coffee options. Customer then select a category and the item they want, plus the size and whether they want to make it a meal. (Naturally, a large meal is the first option.)
Then, customers can tap the "customize" button, easily see every ingredient that comes on the item, and make amendments — add bacon, hold the onions, go light on the mayonnaise, or just make it "plain." Once customers are finished altering their order, they review it — along with the calorie count — and elect to either pay there by card or in cash at the register.
Customers take a numbered "table tent" with them to sit down at a table, a booth or a high-top. Food runners have access to a system that can detect where the table tents are, and aim to check in halfway through the meal to ensure the service is up to par.
Some critics say the digitization of the ordering process will allow for McDonald's to cut jobs just as it's facing national pressure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. However, the company, which employs nearly 2 million people worldwide, insists the digital kiosks won't kill jobs, but instead allow franchises to repurpose labor. The owner at a McDonald's flagship location in Chicago said the restaurant actually employed more entry-level workers after going digital, according to Bloomberg.
Holliday said the same goes for her — while there are two fewer cashiers, there's now a "guest experience leader" stationed at the kiosk and food runners who are arguably more customer-facing than cashiers. (Though customers are not expected to tip.)
"It really doesn't save me in labor," Holliday said, gesturing toward the kiosk. "Essentially, this is a register."
The fast food behemoth is banking on the modernization efforts — which come alongside a large-scale partnership with UberEats to establish a delivery service — to stay relevant in an increasingly automated food service world. Fast-casual concepts are ubiquitous and other food chains are trying to attract new customers with fresher or healthier options: Wendy's is emphasizing fresh over frozen patties and White Castle has rolled out entirely plant-based "Impossible Sliders" nationwide.
During Friday's grand opening, Holliday had placed whole fruits and vegetables alongside cage-free eggs and a basket of oats on a picnic table in the middle of the dining room. It didn't really jibe with the rest of the more modern decor, but it had a greater purpose, she said.