ShareThis Page
Technology

McDonald's tech updates have some workers jumping ship

| Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 11:39 a.m.
A McDonald's Quarter Pounder, left, and Double Quarter Pound burger are shown with fresh beef Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Atlanta. McDonald's is offering fresh beef rather than frozen patties in some burgers at thousands of restaurants, a switch it first announced about a year ago as it works to appeal to customers who want fresher foods.
A McDonald's Quarter Pounder, left, and Double Quarter Pound burger are shown with fresh beef Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Atlanta. McDonald's is offering fresh beef rather than frozen patties in some burgers at thousands of restaurants, a switch it first announced about a year ago as it works to appeal to customers who want fresher foods.

For Dudley Dickerson, the mobile-app orders were the last straw.

McDonald's has been updating with new technology, delivery, a revamped menu and curbside pickup. But the “Experience of the Future” has employees handling more tasks — in many cases, they say, without pay raises or adequate staffing. So Dickerson, 23, handed over his spatula for the last time.

“They added a lot of complicated things,” Dickerson said in an interview. “It makes it harder for the workers.”

Many fast-food employees hop from job to job. But with unemployment so low, turnover is becoming a problem. Workers are walking rather than dealing with new technologies and menu options. The result: Customers will wait longer. Drive-through times at McDonald's slowed to 239 seconds last year — more than 30 seconds slower than in 2016, according to QSR magazine. It's also pokier than Burger King, Wendy's and Taco Bell.

Turnover at U.S. fast-food restaurants jumped to 150 percent — meaning a store employing 20 workers would go through 30 in one year. That figure is the highest since industry tracker People Report began collecting data in 1995.

“Quick-service restaurants are having a little more trouble with job openings and finding workers,” said Michael Harms, executive director of operations at People Report. “It's the pace of work, the pace of technology and the lower wage rate.”

McDonald's and its franchisees haven't seen an increase in crew turnover over the past year, nor is there a correlation between the new initiatives and turnover, spokeswoman Terri Hickey said in an emailed statement.

“Together with our owner-operators, we are investing in all necessary training to ensure successful implementation of any changes in our restaurants,” Hickey wrote. “Just as Experience of the Future modernizes the restaurant experience for our customers, there is also a focus on improving the work experience for restaurant employees.”

McDonald's Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook has been pushing initiatives that have helped turn around comparable sales, which rose 3.6 percent last year in the United States. But they've also made it tougher to retain restaurant employees in a tight labor market.

“The ball is really in the court of the workers,” Harms said. “Not the employers.”

Last year, McDonald's said, it employed 235,000 people, including corporate and restaurant workers. Each of those people generated $97,000 in revenue, compared with about $65,000 the year before. While this could be a sign of increased efficiency, it could also be seen as stretching thin an inadequate number of employees.

In Broward County, Florida, Westley Williams said he's moving from McDonald's to burger joint Checkers because of mobile-app orders, new items and six new self-order kiosks.

“It's more stressful now,” said Williams, 42, noting he didn't get a raise for doing more work. “When we mess up a little bit because we're getting used to something new, we get yelled at.”

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, about 10 McDonald's workers hustled behind the counter of a store in Chicago's Loop. They called out order numbers for those waiting for lunch — some had ordered via an in-store kiosk, some from the mobile app and some the old-fashioned way, at the register.

An order of a Bacon McDouble, small fries and an apple juice took about 2 12 minutes, faster than the average drive-through time, but the drink was missing and the employee seemed confused when asked for it.

“The biggest risk when you have a lot of employee turnover is the customer experience,” said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst for Edward Jones. “If that starts to wane, then this turns into a bigger problem.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me