In a typical scenario, a customer places an order through the kiosk and pays with cash or a credit, debit or gift card. The order is sent directly to the kitchen, and the customer is given a receipt to collect his order. Throughout the transaction, the customer need never interact with a human.
Aside from speeding up service, the kiosks, developed by NCR, can converse in 26 languages, display 3D images of selections, and even recommend certain items ("up-selling").
The kiosks would also reduce long-term labor costs and head off an expected labor shortage, though McDonald's is quick to emphasize that affected staff would be re-deployed rather than downsized. Regardless of the technology it deploys, the fast food industry anticipates a need for approximately 1.8 million new workers by 2015.
McDonald's is piloting several kiosk models, ranging from $2,500 to $18,000 per unit, and hopes to deploy them on a wide scale next year. Burger King and Subway are also exploring the use of electronic self-service.