McDonald's Is Testing Robot Servers in Texas

The test restaurant focuses on serving customers using the drive-thru, pick-up, and delivery services, but it isn't a fully automated concept.

By Steve Huff

There's an experimental McDonald's franchise in Fort Worth, Texas, different from any other you've been to. On entering the restaurant, you'll note it's tiny. Moreover, while there are human employees, they aren't necessarily tired-looking teens running registers.

A human restaurant team preps food orders and places them onto food and beverage conveyors, but automation is key in ensuring customers get their orders. Success or failure may hint at fast food's near future.

In an email to Entrepreneur, a McDonald's spokesperson stressed that there aren't actual robots serving the food. Additionally, they stated that the company has no plans to test the concept in other locations. "McDonald's is always testing and learning from new concepts and technologies to ensure a best-in-class, seamless experience for our customers," the spokesperson wrote, "This is the first restaurant concept of this kind to be introduced in the U.S. and for now is only being tested in one location outside Fort Worth, Texas."

Newsweek reported on the experimental McDonald's after a video from foodiemunster, a TikToker and Instagram user, went viral.

The video, which already has well over a million views, illustrates the ordering and pickup process. It's not that different from newer, human-staffed McDonald's, where you can order using touchscreens. The change is apparent when customers pick up their food from an automated machine server.

In a statement quoted by Newsweek, McDonald's explained why the robot-operated restaurant is so small and how it works:

When you step inside the test restaurant concept, you'll notice it's considerably smaller than a traditional McDonald's restaurant in the U.S. Why? The features—inside and outside—are geared toward customers who are planning to dine at home or on the go...

Inside the restaurant, there's a delivery pick-up room for couriers to retrieve orders quickly and conveniently. There are also kiosks, where customers can place their orders to go, and a pick-up shelf for orders. Outside the restaurant, there are several parking spaces dedicated to curbside order pick-up, as well as designated parking spaces for delivery drivers.

Reactions from those commenting on foodiemunster's video reflect an ongoing debate about automation in several industries. "It's cool but I don't think I'm a fan," said one Instagram commenter, "I rely on the indoor play grounds ... Also we already have too many automated things happening and I feel like we don't need more stuff where you don't interact with actual people. I don't know."

Newsweek quoted other comments that were more frank, one person writing, "Well there goes millions of jobs," and another stating that if the company leans into the experiment, "I'll just boycott McDonald's, their food's mid at best anyway."

There's been a heated debate over similar automation like retail self-checkout since the latter was introduced in 1986. As CNN noted in an article published in July this year, 67% of retail customers "said they'd experienced a failure at the self-checkout lane."

According to Newsweek, this is a singular experiment for McDonald's to see how it goes. If the fast food giant judges it a success, who knows? One day in the future, you might be plucking your Big Mac and fries from cold robot hands.

Correction, Dec. 23

The original version of this story misstated the nature of the experimental restaurant. It does feature new automation but is still staffed by human crew members who prepare the food and aid customers who encounter issues with self-serve kiosks or incorrect orders.

Steve Huff

Entrepreneur Staff

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