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CHICAGO -- (AP) -- Did somebody say kiosks?
McDonald's is testing a machine that lets customers punch in their orders, pay with cash and wait at a table for their burgers and fries.
So far, the Oak Brook-based company is trying out two machines in its Illinois laboratories and one in a children's ``Playplace'' at a McDonald's restaurant in Wyoming, Mich.
``It's great for parents who have kids,'' says Lisa Howard, a McDonald's spokeswoman.
Competitors have set up similar systems, with varying degrees of success.
Burger King tried a text-based system (McDonald's is picture-based) 12 years ago in Boston but eventually dumped it because of wrong orders and slow service, said Kim Miller, a spokeswoman for the Miami-based company.
``Consumers were somewhat receptive to it,'' Miller said, noting that the company wouldn't be opposed to trying again.
Meanwhile, an Arby's franchisee in Golden, Colo., is trying out its own patented kiosks at five of its 62 restaurants. The machines do not allow automatic payment but instead are placed in threes and fours around a cashier.
The system has had its share of problems, says Mark Eagleton, senior manager of the franchise company -- everything from customers spilling sodas on the system's touch screens to grease from fryers gumming things up. That's made Arby's officials reluctant to use the kiosks nationwide.
But Eagleton says response from customers -- including Spanish-speakers who can order in their language -- has been worth the trouble.
Unlike McDonald's machines, the Arby's system also allows customers to use credit and debit cards -- a factor that has caused them to spend an average of $4 more per order, Eagleton says.
``And some people, believe it or not, prefer computers because there isn't a rude employee standing across from them,'' he says.
Jodi Hall, a customer at the McDonald's test site in Michigan, said she's one who often prefers the machine.
``It's pretty cool. It's something different. And sometimes when I don't feel like talking, I can use it,'' the 14-year-old Wyoming, Mich., resident said Wednesday, while ordering an ice cream from what looks like an ATM with an oversized screen.
Her purchase was delayed slightly because she only had coins and had to borrow a dollar. The McDonald's machine only takes paper money up to $50 bills at this point. The customer's change arrives in a paper cup when employees bring the order to the specified table.
Officials at McDonald's corporate headquarters say they plan to add a couple more machines in yet-to-be-determined restaurants in other parts of the country.
If successful, they say they may develop similar machines for those who prefer to order at drive-thrus -- though those kiosks would have to be made of tougher, vandal-proof materials.
But Howard, the McDonald's spokeswoman, cautions that it's too early to tell if the idea will work.
``Can we serve the customer better with this new technology? Will it be accurate? How does it integrate with the operations behind the counter?'' she asks. ``Those are the kinds of questions we need to answer.''
© 1999 Kiosks.Org.