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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
McDonald's launches faster food
McTouch ordering terminal
If you hate gherkins, McDonald's new system will remember
Ever eager to reduce the distance between a hungry customer and his next Big Mac, McDonald's is testing out a new computerised ordering system.

The touch-screen kiosks are being tried out in Chicago, Denver and Raleigh, as well as France, Japan and Australia.

The terminals are part of McDonald's drive to streamline its ordering and food-preparation process, an area that has been prone to costly glitches.

They may even be able to remember a customer's individual preferences.

So far, the response has been surprisingly positive, with about 70% of customer orders going through the kiosks in the US test restaurants.

The personal touch

McDonald's has not yet succeeded in eliminating the human element in the ordering process.

Customers still deal with a flesh-and-blood employee when they pick up their food, or if they need to receive change.

Indeed, McDonald's insists the technology is a means of making the process more human, not less.

Staff previously tied to the order counter will be freed to interact more widely, and can be employed in serving customers at their tables.

And the fast-food giant insists the move does not aim to cut staff, or wages.

Staying fresh

The kiosk ordering system is the latest in a string of recent innovations at McDonald's, which is keen to make its offering more distinctive,

The company has recently pulled out of a long period of weak financial returns, caused partly by consumers' health concerns, and partly by operational difficulties.

Kiosks are the brainchild of McDonald's Innovation Centre, which is also mulling increased automation in the cooking process, and the use of handheld electronic devices by staff to take orders and record output.

McDonald's has not yet decided if and when kiosks may become a standard feature of restaurants worldwide.

Its rivals are moving fast, however; Burger King is reported to be testing a similar device.

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