I watched McDonald’s customers choose between a screen and a human. It was startling

Person holding phone next to McDonald's logo

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Sometimes I end up doing research without knowing it. Or even want to.

more technically incorrect

Not your actual scientific kind, you understand. Just the kind that ends up lighting up my world in unexpected ways.

Here I was the other day at Lisbon Airport, Terminal 2, and suddenly I was attacked by hunger.

In the near distance was one of society’s leading culinary sanctuary, McDonald’s. So while my wife went for something healthy, I experienced the joy of a Portuguese Big Mac and of course fries.

There were six large screens you could order on. All were occupied, so I went to the counter, where a very nice man quickly attended to my needs. The food arrived quickly, some might say alarmingly quickly.

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Then I sat down and observed the flow of people heading towards their red and yellow beacon.

The screens had an advantage. They were placed closer to the corridor where people walk. Ergo, many gravitate directly to them.

Most tackled with confidence. No one, in the hour I sat there, seemed to have trouble navigating these large quasi-iPads.

My very unscientific guess was that for every customer who ordered at the counter, there were 30 who chose the screens.

Are the screens necessarily faster? I really don’t know. At the counter, you look at the menu, talk to a person, and then pay. On the screen you have to scroll a bit, tap a bit, wait a bit, and then pay.

However, it seems clear that the vast majority of people believed that screens gave them faster gratification.

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I hear you grumbling that it was only elderly people who waddled to the counter. It wasn’t. There was absolutely no age bias that I could see.

What was curious, however, was that of those who chose to go to the counter, the overwhelming majority were men. Men who were alone and men who were in groups.

Maybe they had special commands that they thought a screen could not handle. Maybe they didn’t want anyone to see how much they ordered, or what. It couldn’t be that they found the screens intimidating, surely.

Watching humanity in action, making natural decisions – or rather, decisions that felt natural to them – is very absorbing.

When you order via a screen, however, the amount of human interaction is limited to someone handing you a tray or a bag and you — maybe — saying, “Thank you.”

But this is fast food, so the most important thing is not human contact. It is speed, governed by need.

Onscreen ordering is of course only one facet of the future of fast food. For example, McDonald’s is rolling out robotic ordering at the drive-thru.

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But the company’s CEO, Chris Kempczinski, continues to insist that McDonald’s does not have a completely robotic future. He recently explained, “The idea of ​​robots and all that stuff, while it might be great for garnering headlines, it’s not practical in the vast majority of restaurants.”

I’m afraid what he means by practical is actually profitable.

As with all research, I was left with questions. What is it about men and counter orders? Why don’t people see ordering on the screen as inherently less hygienic? Doesn’t the future bring only mobile ordering instead of this big screen?

But I suspect you only left one question: How was my Big Mac?

Honestly, it fell apart within seconds.


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