At its McDonald’s 2020 Virtual Investor Update today, McDonald’s unveiled a long-term growth strategy that includes a new loyalty program, more AI and machine learning in the drive-thru lane, and revamped formats for future locations.
At the Update, which directly followed the company’s Q3 2020 earnings call, CEO Chris Chris Kempczinski and several other presenters outlined the pieces of this new strategy, dubbed “Accelerating the Arches.”
Technology will play a huge role in future growth, particularly where the drive-thru is concerned. In 2019, the company acquired Dynamic Yield, whose tech can show menu options based on external data, such as the weather or traffic patterns in the area, and is currently installed at about 12,000 McDonald’s locations. At the time of the acquisition, McDonald’s suggested this system would eventually be able to make recommendations based on more personalized preferences and order history for each individual customer. Deploying that capability to the drive-thru lane is now part of the Accelerating the Arches plan (though there’s no definite timeframe).
Also in 2019, McDonald’s acquired voice-tech company Apprente. Some McDonald’s franchisees already have an Apprente-powered voice assistant taking orders, rather than a human being. Experts say Apprente could be ready to scale across the McDonald’s system as early as next year.
Other updates to McDonald’s drive-thrus will include express lanes for digital orders and a conveyor belt that delivers your food without the need for human-to-human interaction.
Wait times at the drive-thru have progressively increased over the last several years, and the latest data shows that total wait time in 2020 was about 30 seconds longer than 2019 across the QSR sector. Add that to the pandemic-related need for more contactless ordering and more efficient ways of fulfilling off-premises orders (i.e., those outside of the dining room), and it’s no wonder reinventing the drive thru is at the top of the priority list for many QSRs. Burger King also envisions a conveyer belt in the drive-thru, and in terms of more AI-enabled tech and dedicated drive-thru lanes for digital orders, everyone from Dunkin’ to KFC is exploring options.
Like some of those other chains, McDonald’s is also rethinking the physical layout of future stores. Even before the pandemic started its latest streak of record-breaking case numbers, QSRs were doubling-down on off-premises formats and calling into question the future of the dining room. Many, including Burger King and Wendy’s, have announced drive-thru-only restaurants for the future. McDonald’s said at today’s investor Update that it is considering a store format that is just a kitchen serving drive-thru and pickup orders.
Finally, the company will launch a new loyalty app called MyMcDonald’s by the end of next year. McDonald’s today also announced McPlant, its own line of plant-based meats, which will be testing in markets in 2021.
While all of these efforts are features and initiatives many brands are exploring, McDonald’s sheer size (nearly 40,000 restaurants worldwide) and inevitable influence over others could greatly accelerate the rollout of these technologies into the mainstream.