Touch Screen Comes to Local Coffee Venue

By Susanne Masi

The McDonald’s near my home was remodeled – with a new image, WiFi connected touch-screen menu, and double drive-thru lanes. Another step in its efforts to compete with more trendy coffee shops, along with offering frappes, macchiatos, mochas, lattes, an advance-order app—even delivery service.


I admit, I actually like McDonald’s coffee, and occasionally stop by for a cup (sometimes even a breakfast burrito, the only MD food that appeals). It’s been a habit since the late 80’s, when I was in grad school in Rogers Park and took my paperwork to MD to write for a couple of hours. I never use the drive-thru—I like the personal touch. I’m used to the comfortable drill: order coffee (senior, two creams), pay the cashier, get my receipt (I keep track), and stand aside to await my order. They either call my number or hand it to me.


Often I take my cup out and sip as I drive. But sometimes I decide to stay, find a booth, and read a book. It’s a nice break for me, and I find it interesting to observe the diverse and interesting clientele. McDonald’s is a place for senior meetups, cops grabbing coffee, kids playing in the playplace, teens getting before-school breakfast—even job interviews. And although some locations have signs that say not to linger over a half hour, no one ever asks you to leave.


So, when my McDonald’s was closed for remodeling, it disrupted my usual routine. Occasionally I settled for Starbucks, but it wasn’t the same - for instance, no senior coffees. There are other MDs in the vicinity, of course, but I have my loyalties. The remodeling took three months, I swear. The outdoor kiosk said “Open Feb. 2,” but that was only for the drive-thru. I kept watching for the real opening.


Then, finally, it’s open. There are cars in the lot. The day I stopped in they were still power-washing the windows and I had to walk to the other side of the building to enter. Surprisingly, there were no other customers in line. I guess the word wasn’t entirely out that it was now finally open. A smiling young woman greeted me, eager to assist with A+ customer service: “Good morning, may I help you?” She guided me to the large new WiFi connected touchscreen menu where I was to order. She told me I also had the option of ordering as usual at the counter, but I decided to be adventurous.


I could see it would take me awhile to figure out the screen, but she asked me what I wanted. “Senior coffee, two creams.” Without a pause, she quickly punched it in for me. This was not a “lesson,” of course—she just did it for me. I was relieved. Then, smiling, she directed me to the counter where I was to pay. There was no exchange of money at the screen. She quickly shot behind the counter, still smiling, and checked my order on her screen. I handed her 75 cents. I expected to wait for my coffee on the side, as usual, but instead she explained, no, I was to take this white plastic gizmo she gave me, with my order number in large black letters, and place it on the table of my choice. The coffee would be brought to me.


So, I entered the shiny new dining area, sat down at a table, and placed my number on it. A few minutes later, the same smiling young woman came to my table and delivered the coffee. I thanked her and asked for my receipt, having forgotten to ask for it amidst all the new protocols I was absorbing. She obligingly returned to the counter to fetch one, but the receipt was not accurate – it was for fries and a coke. “This is not the right one” I gently informed her. A bit dismayed, she said, “No problem, I’ll fix it.” A few minutes later she returned, a smile on her face, with the correct receipt.

It was our fifth encounter using the new, efficient system. She did everything. I wondered who had been serving other customers while she graciously tended to my coffee order. But she made me smile.


The last time I was in McDonald’s, there were several customers lined up at the counter. Now I may be wrong, but I’d guess that most of them had bypassed the screen to order directly at the counter – it’s still an option. I guess old habits are hard to break.


Editorial note: 

Torque is located in the West Loop steps away from McDonald's new global headquarters, which allows us to experience these types of innovation in our own backyard. With their new headquarters restaurant, we expect that McDonald's knows that it's not just efficiencies that matter. We think they hope to foster outside-the-box thinking in the fast-changing retail and quick service market, to bring people more of what they want- a food experience, their way.