High-tech remodel planned for local McDonald’s; Walmart gets 16-foot-tall vending machine

photo by: Courtesy: McDonald's

The McDonald's near Sixth and Michigan streets will install two, double-sided kiosks as part of renovation this summer. The kiosks give customers the ability to order without going through the traditional counter process.

People say I’m not a tech wizard, but I plan to use an iPhone to clear the snow from my driveway. (Once I bury my son’s phone, I’m pretty sure he’ll pick up a snow shovel.) While that maybe doesn’t meet the definition of high-tech, plans for the renovation of a Lawrence McDonald’s restaurant do.

The McDonald’s restaurant near Sixth and Michigan streets will undergo a renovation to install ordering kiosks and other mobile phone technology as part of a company-wide initiative known as “Experience of the Future.”

The Lawrence-based owners of the area McDonald’s restaurants have filed plans with City Hall for the renovations of the store at 1309 W. Sixth St. The company has confirmed work is scheduled to begin in mid-May after classes at KU dismiss for the semester. Work could take up to two months. The lobby of the restaurant will be closed during the time period, but the drive-thru will remain open.


When the lobby reopens, customers are likely to notice the addition of self-ordering kiosks. McDonald’s is working to equip all of its stores with the devices so that people can avoid going to the counter and giving their order to an employee. That old-fashioned option will remain, though.

“We will never take away our face-to-face experience,” said Kevin Dobski, who is an owner and technology supervisor for the Lawrence-based McDonald’s franchise company. “That is always going to be part of the customer service platform. This provides additional options for our customers.”

In addition to the kiosks, the Sixth Street store also will have its parking lot remodeled to accommodate new spaces for a curbside delivery program. The store will be equipped to start filling orders that customers make from the McDonald’s mobile phone app. People can come inside and avoid a line to pick up the app order, or they can park in a designated spot where a McDonald’s employee will bring the food to them.

Dobski said there is a subset of customers who find the curbside delivery option more convenient than the drive-thru. He used the example of someone ordering via the app while they are still at their office, knowing that by the time they arrive at the restaurant their order will be ready.

“It is a way to get ahead of the curve,” Dobski said. “You really are bypassing the line at the drive-thru. Saving that five to 10 minutes can be real important in a lot of people’s days.”

Corporate leaders with McDonald’s made the decision back in 2016 that the company needed to more heavily invest in technology to keep up with the changing concept of customer convenience. Dobski said the new technology has created a learning curve for operators of McDonald’s restaurants over the last three years, but said a lot of the “day-to-day hurdles” have been worked through now.

As for how customers are reacting to the changes, Dobski said a majority of customers are still using the traditional counter method to order food. Several of the 18 restaurants owned by the Dobski family have converted to the “Experience of the Future” concept. So far, Dobski said, one restaurant has hit the 40 percent mark in the number of customers who regularly use the kiosk ordering system.

“Millennials are naturally gravitating to them, though,” Dobski said. “It is definitely generational right now. A lot of our coffee clubs that have senior citizens, they have strong opinions about not wanting to try the kiosks. But some have tried it and ended up loving it.”

In case you are wondering, Dobski said the new technology isn’t resulting in any job losses at the local McDonald’s. He indicated the company, like others, is facing challenges with a tight labor market, and the new kiosk system might relieve some of that pressure.

In addition to the kiosks and parking lot remodel, expect new digital menu boards and a new look for the exterior of the store. The roof will be removed and replaced with a more modern design.

The store was built in 1977 and was last remodeled in 2005, a local McDonald’s spokesman said. The Tom and Marilyn Dobski family owns and operates 18 McDonald’s locations in northeast Kansas, including four in Lawrence.

The store at 3241 Iowa St. already has undergone the “Experience of the Future” remodel. Kevin Dobski said the store at 4911 W. Sixth St., near Wakarusa Drive, is scheduled to undergo the remodel in the third quarter of this year, and the store at 901 W. 23rd St. likely will be remodeled in the fourth quarter.

In other news and notes from around town:

• While I’m writing about large companies and new technology, I might as well mention a new addition at the Lawrence Walmart on south Iowa Street.

Earlier this month, the company chose the Walmart Supercenter at 3300 Iowa St. to house a device called a “Pickup Tower.”

Think of it as a 16-foot-tall vending machine. It is used by customers who have placed an online order with Walmart. Those customers who have ordered online can go straight to the Pickup Tower, use their smartphone to notify the tower that they have arrived, and the tower then will dispense their order within about a minute.

photo by: Courtesy: Walmart

Walmart has added a new 16-foot tall vending machine that it calls a Pickup Tower to its store on south Iowa Street. The tower dispenses items that customers order online.

A press release from Walmart said most of the towers eventually will be accompanied by pickup lockers, which will allow customers to pick up larger items that can’t fit in the tower.

I haven’t used the pickup tower yet because I haven’t been able to find its tailgate. But clearly, the tower is a sign of a trend that likely will be with us for quite a while — increased technology in the retail world.


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