An undefined technology system failure at individual McDonald’s outlets across Australia, China, Japan and the UK reflects the need for proper investment in digital services, upon which consumers using fast food restaurants have become so reliant. Although McDonald’s has stated this occurrence is not related to a cybersecurity attack, many locations have closed temporarily, showing how costly such outages can be to operators.

McDonald’s, alongside other fast food players, has significantly invested in digital ordering in recent years, including self-service order kiosks, smartphone delivery and takeaway apps, and AI-powered drive-through systems. The company has implemented these changes for greater operational efficiency and consumer satisfaction, as naturally, convenience is always front-of-mind in the fast food space. More than a third of consumers globally (38%) claim that when it comes to purchasing food and drink, how digitally advanced or “smart” the product or service is always or often influences their choice.

As consumers come to use digitally convenient features more often, there is an expectation of reliability and consistency. Significant disruptions and delays are not only frustrating but also have the potential to diminish consumer confidence and the likelihood of re-ordering.

QSRs must learn to walk before they can run towards a digital future

After several hours of the McDonald’s ordering systems being down, the company declared it had managed to resolve issues, with outlets back up and running in Australia, Japan, and the UK. The true cost of the disruption to sales during this period is unclear, but it points to a need within the restaurant industry to get the basics right in terms of digital investment.

While there has been significant noise in the industry around an automated future of kitchen robots and delivery drones, McDonald’s CEO himself has been skeptical of the economic viability of these technologies. The food and foodservice industry has typically been viewed as lagging behind other industries in terms of technology investments, and although global restaurant chains have been working to change this, they are still underperforming in crucial areas such as cybersecurity. For many players, it is a case of learning to walk before they can run towards a fully digital future.

Beyond the streamlined experience, the backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis has also heightened consumer reliance on digital services. McDonald’s announced in its latest results that systemwide loyalty member sales had grown 45% in 2023 from 2022, up to $20 billion. Many of its loyalty programmes are run through its MyMcDonald’s Rewards, available in the McDonald’s app. At a time when consumers are in a budgeting mindset, a lack of access to digital services can negatively impact sales. 57% of consumers globally said they would find information about loyalty programmes accessed via a QR code at a restaurant useful.

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