McDonald’s Drive-Thru Goes Digital

Idling in line while waiting for a Big Mac is so retro.

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McDonald’s has more than 36,000 locations worldwide. Its U.S. workforce alone is four times the size of Atlanta, Georgia. The company sells 75 hamburgers per second. But, still, there are issues. Profits have been on the slide, as higher-ups continue to fiddle with the menu and reconsider approach, struggling to keep pace with a middle-class increasingly weary of fast food. More and more, McDonald’s is looking like a towering (if slowly eroding) twentieth-century monolith.

In an effort to catch up with its more agile competition, the company will soon bring mobile ordering into the fold. McDonald’s plans to roll out the new smartphone pay-and-pickup technology next year, both in the U.S. market and other leading world economies, namely Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and France. Becca Hary, a spokesperson for McDonald's, says that mobile ordering should be available in as many as 25,000 locations globally by 2018.

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McDonald's first launched its smartphone app last year with limited features, and began trialling mobile pay this summer.

Others in the industry, like Starbucks and Domino's, have seen huge success in their programs—the former says 1 in 4 customers pay via app, the latter that half of all sales are now mobile. That’s huge, and while McDonald’s is late to the party, the move could help alleviate one of the fast food titan's biggest pressure points: Bumper-to-bumper cars at the drive-thru, where 70 percent of McDonald’s customers go for their meal.