McDonalds Kiosks: UX Disaster

McDonalds Kiosks

McDonalds Kiosks: UX Disaster

When you’re a kid, McDonalds is an achievement. When you’re an adult, it’s defeat.

The fact is, for me and I suspect many others, a visit to McDonalds is intended to be a quick visit, in and out and forget it. McDonalds has rolled out self-serve kiosks in a big way, that forces the guest to stop and think about what they’re doing. It’s awkward. It’s unusual. And it’s a User Experience (UX) disaster.

McDonalds Kiosks

These self-serve kiosks have been experimented with by a number of McDonalds properties primarily in the Western provinces, plus other fast-food establishments. Petro-Canada rolled out a series of ‘Neighbourhood’ cafes with little touch screens. I always ended up asking the guy standing behind the counter how to use it, anyway. It didn’t seem to save any time, and I was confused as to when or where to pay. Turns out it was the gas cashier that I was supposed to pay while waiting for the food. They’re long gone at least at the Ajax, Ontario location.

Some Chipotle locations in the US had kiosks, but last time I visited they’ve disappeared.

I can imagine why these keep popping up. There’s a theory that with the latest round of $15/h minimum wage movements some establishments are thinking this might save money by eliminating staff. There may be a push to attract younger people back to McDonalds who are staying away by going with touch screens plus adding more power outlets for charging devices.

The execution of these touch screen devices is flawed for a number of reasons.


First of all, these screens aren’t the small table sized kiosks that were tested in the US. They’re huge! These monsters stand well over 6 feet high and over 2 feet wide. There are two problems with this.

They’ve just blown up the graphics from a tablet. As a tablet, I can imagine they looked kinda funky. Little burgers and drinks sliding up from the side or bottom or top. But when you’re staring at an approximately 40+ inch monitor on it’s side from only 6-12 inches away, it’s mind blowing. I can feel the heat coming off of these screens, and see the individual pixels. You were never intended to be this close to a television monitor of any design. This is just painfully wrong for the eyes and the brain.

You have a peripheral vision to account for: I can only see about 15 inches at a time standing this close to a monitor. That leaves over 75% of the screen in my peripheral vision, or completely not visible. My eyes darted around the screen like I had Attention Deficit Disorder. I felt like I was missing something on the screen.

Super Size

The other problem I hinted at earlier, these devices are HUGE! Not just the screen but the whole device. In my average sized McDonalds at the Lansdowne St West location in Peterborough, there are four or five of these monsters. While waiting in line after giving these things a try, I heard literally two moms comment about the cramped layout trying to scoot their children around the through the maze. Remember, McDonalds is about getting in and out quickly without effort. I agree, the quarters were very cramped with these devices.  And in the time I was there, nobody was using them.


Earlier I mentioned the only reason I’m ever in a McDonalds is that I admit defeat. I’m late, or en route, or just need a quick snack. I don’t want to admit I’m there, and don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I’m there. A big problem I noticed right away when I tried to use the screens is that everyone waiting for their order was watching me try to navigate the menu and order my lunch. This was really uncomfortable! True or not, I felt I was being judged for my meal choice, and backed out then back in before finally giving up. BTW it was a McDouble and coffee. Pretty tame, actually. But what if I ordered that coffee 4×4? What if I ordered a sundae too? I just felt really self aware, and canceled the order at the first opportunity.

I turned around and realized the line had not moved, so I didn’t lose my place.


I’ve noticed the pickup orientation here at the Oshawa Centre mall, too and observed the same pattern. Regardless of whether you order with the kiosk or a person, you’re assigned a number. When your number is called, you go to the new raised counter to get your food. As if going to a McDonalds isn’t bad enough, you’re now relegated to a simple number. Taking a cue from Starbucks, adding a name to an order really does matter. Having to stand around waiting for a number is just one step above waiting at the bottom end of a feeding chute. In the same way people were judging me for my order on the massive screen, I was now judging all of these poor souls waiting for their number to come up.

But on the topic of efficiency, I can’t prove this, but there seems to be a lot more people just standing around. Both behind the counter and in the lobby. But it’s the staff I see standing around that’s bothersome. There’s always one staff person in the lobby to help people with the kiosks. There’s also a staff person standing behind the raised counter to call the numbers and hand over the food. And this observation seems to amp up the apparent chaos that comes with any fast-food open kitchen. There’s always been a buzz, but now it seems out of balance. These two greeters or servers stand calm in stark contrast to the elevated activity happening in the kitchen. The most disappointing thing is that on two occasions now, I’ve tried to use the kiosk while waiting for a live cashier, but bailed. And there are less cashiers now so they seem to be stressed out just relegated to exchanging an order for money (remember, the guest has to go to the side to wait for their number).

Plus the other people standing around are the customers! The lobby was full of customers who had ordered, but were waiting for their number.

I gave up. I looked around at all of the people waiting for a cashier or for their food, then I decided to leave. Both times!

Who are these for?

I can’t imagine they’re popular with the 35-50 crowd like me. I know they will not be a hit with the older demo. Frazzled soccer moms have enough on their mind and are juggling orders in their mind while herding kids to and from the minivan. Maybe pre-teens might like the ADD-inspired screen animation, but it’s plastic only: debit or credit. So, who is this for?

This is awkward

The massive huge screens you’re standing less than 12 inches away from are hard to read and awkward to navigate when you can’t see the whole screen.

The fact that the entire lobby can see my order is awkward.

Watching the staff standing around to ‘help’ while it’s obvious the kitchen or cashiers can always use some help, is awkward.

And leaving the restaurant without buying anything is more than awkward. It’s a waste of my time. And a reminder that McDonalds has lost touch with its relationship with its staff, and its customers.

The screens may have looked great on a Creative Director’s iPad, but these behemoths amplify the problem with the fast food experience.