SOUTH PORTLAND — Two elderly couples out for frappes and fries were guided away from the counter and toward two new digital ordering kiosks at the McDonald’s on Gorham Road in South Portland. They balked, as if a poisonous snake had suddenly appeared before them.

But before long, they were putting in their orders via the kiosks’ touch screens as if they were tech-savvy 15-year-olds. Then they took a number and retired to a table to wait for a McDonald’s employee to bring them their food.

Blaine Campbell, at McDonald’s with his wife, Joan, confessed the reason for his initial hesitation: He doesn’t own a computer “so I’m easily confused.” But once he got through it, he said, the digital ordering experience was “great.” His wife called it “simple and fast.”

“I think the delivery’s a nice touch,” Joan Campbell said.

The Gorham Road McDonald’s is the first in Maine to install the kiosks, and has been using them since last week. The chain announced in June that it would roll out the new technology in 2,500 restaurants by year’s end and combine it with table service. The South Portland restaurant, owned by James Nygren, is planning a special event Thursday to officially launch the new program.

Each of the two kiosks is double-sided, so there are four “order points” that customers can access, though customers can still order at the register if they prefer.


“You can get table service from the front counter too,” said Bonnie Shaw, an area supervisor for McDonald’s. “We want them to know they can still do that because some of them have been a little shy about (ordering from a kiosk).”

Here’s how it works: A host or hostess – another new, permanent addition – greets customers as they come in the door and suggests they try one of the new kiosks. The touch screen guides customers through the McDonald’s menu and gives them options to customize their order. They can order their burger without pickles or ketchup, for example – or even without any meat (which apparently happens more often than you’d think). Ordering a soft drink? Choose no ice, or press the “extra” or “easy” buttons if you want more or less ice.

After ordering, customers pick up a plastic “table tent” with a number on it and enter the number at the kiosk so the staff will know where to bring their food. The table tents are outfitted with Bluetooth technology so employees can check an online map in the kitchen to see which zone their customers are sitting in. Then it’s time to pay and pick a table.

Customers aren’t expected to tip their servers. Any tips left behind will be donated to the local Ronald McDonald House, Nygren said, or some other charity.

When McDonald’s announced the kiosk program, critics questioned whether employees were being replaced by technology and would lose their jobs. Nygren said he has actually expanded his lunch staff from 14 to 18 employees to account for the new greeters and extra coverage behind the counter. “You went from five order points to nine,” he said, “so you have nine orders coming back at one time.”

Shaw said the employees like the changes because they’re “not just stuck behind the counter for that 8-hour shift.”

Nygren said under the new system, customers still get quick service, there are fewer errors in orders, and congestion at the counter is relieved. But the main benefit, he said, is standing out and being a step ahead of the competition. He’s counted 52 other businesses within walking distance of his restaurant that serve food, from Olive Garden to Hannaford to convenience stores.

“Everybody’s selling food to go nowadays,” he said. “It’s not just restaurants, it’s all the nontraditional places.”

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