Actionable insights straight to your inbox

Equities logo

Jeff Kagan: McDonald’s Automated Ordering System Is Better and Worse

Before long, we may actually walk into MickyD’s and not talk to a human being at all. Everything may be automated. Is that the kind of store we really want?
Equities columnist Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. He covers 5G, AI, IoT, the metaverse, autonomous driving, healthcare, telehealth, pay TV and more. Follow him at and on Twitter @jeffkagan and LinkedIn.
Equities columnist Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. He covers 5G, AI, IoT, the metaverse, autonomous driving, healthcare, telehealth, pay TV and more. Follow him at and on Twitter @jeffkagan and LinkedIn.

Image via Stephen Cannon/Flickr CC

You remember when McDonald’s MCD workers went on strike looking for more money and benefits. At that time, I warned the next step would be the company would turn to AI and avoid this problem in the future. Today, walk into a McDonald’s and see that automated ordering system becoming a reality. On one hand, workers may need a higher income, but that does not mean every company can afford to offer it. After all, customers won’t pay several dollars for a one-dollar hamburger to cover these extra costs.

The early versions of this new automated McDonalds ordering system is very awkward. Many customers have tried and simply given up. Since they can no longer walk up to the counter to place their order with a person, they must either count on someone helping with the technology or walk out empty handed.

This period may be a bit of a rocky road as McDonalds tries to reinvent itself around AI and automation. Before long, we may actually walk into MickyD’s and not talk to a human being at all. Everything may be automated.

There are lots of different sides to this argument but let me ask you one simple question. Is that the kind of store we really want? As an investor, this could make sense. What about as a customer?

Good and Bad of AI and Automation

That’s the path we are on with our infatuation with AI and automation. Over time, I can actually see us preferring these automated ordering systems. They will get easier to use and users will get familiar with these devices.

If we move ahead a few years we won’t see this as any problem at all. But until that time, many customers will struggle. But one thing keeps nagging at me. Is this the kind of impersonal world we really want to live in?

Just like Facebook has watered down the meaning of the term “friend” and today we have difficulty just being social, we can expect this to continue as we go further down this path.

Is This Impersonal World What We Really Want?

Some customers have taken to it quickly. Others who don’t feel comfortable with technology or who don’t understand it, have trouble. So, McDonalds must have a period of training during this transition, which will take time.

Today, McDonalds let’s workers come out to the floor to help customers who need help. Talking with customers, the feeling is good and bad. They think this is both new and exciting and confusing and impersonal next step.

In the past, too many times, when ordering, the attendant is not personable. So, workers did this to themselves. Too many times the customer is the only ones saying thank you and the employees would say your welcome. That’s the reverse of the way we all grew up. The company and its workers should always be thankful and say thank you.

Why Users May Prefer Dealing with AI and Automation

Too often workers don’t see themselves as representatives of the company. They only think of themselves as workers. They don’t care about the company. They don’t care about making the customer feel good.

That’s why many customers would prefer dealing with a machine anyway. So, except for the initial confusion, customers may eventually prefer dealing with machines. That means the real losers are those who count on these entry level jobs.

That means the first job of every teenager who has learned so much from their McDonalds experience is lost. That also means the long-term job of many middle-aged workers is also disappearing.

So, workers may have been hurting themselves in the long run with strikes and bad attitudes and that takes our entire society down a few notches.

The company is interested in lower cost solutions in order to keep their product cost low. We all feel bad for every worker, but from the company and investor point of view, this makes too much sense to ignore.

Multiple Different Perspectives on the Issue of AI and Automation

There are always multiple perspectives to consider. The worker wants to keep their job and get earnings and benefits increases. The management wants their workers to be happy and respectful to the customer. The company and their investors want to decrease costs and increase profits. Customers just want a happy experience.

In today’s age, we are moving past the point where all of these can live together. We must remember, jobs are not there for the worker. Jobs are there for the company to earn a profit for their shareholders or owners.

Jobs are there for any worker who wants to take them. However, workers cannot expect to be able to change the job. It’s not their call. The job is there for the company to serve the customer, period. Not the other way around.

Remember the Hostess Twinkie Story

Remember the story of Hostess, the maker of Twinkies from a few short years ago. Workers wanted more income and benefits and went on strike. In that case, everyone lost. The company closed its doors in 2012 and went out of business. Workers lost their jobs. This shows workers don’t have the power they thought they did.

Later on, the Hostess brand was purchased by others and re-opened. Today, we can go to the store and buy all the Twinkies we want. But those original workers lost their jobs and they never got them back again. This is a lesson that should have been learned by everyone. That includes workers, investors, managers, executives, customers, everyone.

We must realize a company is not in business to give workers jobs. It’s the other way around. A company is in business to grow. If the worker want’s more than a company can give, they should move on to a company who can give them what they want or need. They shouldn’t try and squeeze a company dry like what happened with Hostess.

We have gotten way off-track over the last few decades and today we are paying the price of that new reality we have created. We can push and push, but when we push too far something will break. Remember, no customer will be willing to pay $3 for a $1 burger at McDonalds.

As much as we want to take care of everyone, that’s the reality. If workers want more, they must learn and move upward and onward. Front line McDonalds jobs are entry level and should not be thought of as a career. We can’t expect to get a Cadillac from a Chevy dealership. There are just some realities in life that we can’t change. We must understand the way the world works.

Jeff Kagan is an columnist. Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Industry Analyst, speaker and consultant. He follows wireless, wire line, telecom, Internet, cable TV, IPTV, Cloud, Mobile Pay, FinTech and communications technology. Email him at [email protected]. His web site is Follow him on Twitter @jeffkagan.

If you don't feel that U.S. culture (and much of the world in different ways) is in turmoil, you are not paying attention.
Equities short logo
Equities short logo