McDonald's will start preparing orders before customers arrive

The fast-food burger giant is adding new functionality on mobile orders that uses geofencing technology to help teams start orders while customers are on their way.
McDonald's mobile app
McDonald's hopes to speed service on mobile orders with new geofencing technology. / Photograph: Shutterstock.

McDonald’s will soon start preparing customers’ orders before they even show up.

Specifically, the Chicago-based quick-service chain is integrating geofencing technology that can notify restaurant teams when customers are getting close. 

The app notifies the restaurant when a mobile order customer is within three minutes of the location, so they can start preparing the food. The goal is to speed mobile order service without hurting quality by having those orders sit around. The company internally calls the technology “Ready on Arrival.” The new technology went live on the app earlier this week.

“We’re committed to consistently delivering a fast and more seamless experience for fans using the McDonald’s app,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We’ve rolled out app updates that will improve the mobile-order experience making it fast and convenient for those ordering ahead through the McDonald’s app for curbside, table service or in-store pickup.”

McDonald’s, among many other chains, is intent on getting more customers to use its digital offerings. As such, these companies in recent years have taken numerous steps to upgrade their apps while also offering routine discounts to convince diners to use the programs.

Mobile order customers tend to spend more when they do. They are also more profitable, at least theoretically, because an employee isn’t taking the order. And if these customers join the company’s loyalty program, they provide the brand with options for one-on-one marketing.

In the case of McDonald’s and other fast-food chains, mobile order customers can take pressure off the drive-thru, which can get busy during peak hours, slowing service.

Improving the speed of mobile orders without hurting freshness is clearly important, particularly for a chain like McDonald’s that sells french fries, where quality quickly diminishes. At the same time, the technology could enable customers to get their mobile orders more quickly once they arrive, rather than force them to wait for it to be prepared. 

Digital orders represented more than a third of McDonald’s orders in its six largest global markets in the fourth quarter, executives told analysts in January.

“The digital and technology investments that we’ve made over the past few years have been strong contributors to our top-line growth,” CFO Ian Borden told analysts in January.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to clarify that the technology went live on Friday.

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