Nashville McDonald’s customers will soon be greeted by a person who will walk them through the future of the fast food chain: Self-ordering kiosks.

In addition to helping customers order, “guest experience” employees will serve the customer’s meal to them at their table and will offer to get their drinks for them while dining in.

The self-ordering kiosks and table service are part of the company’s “Experience of the Future” initiative and its “bigger, bolder” vision for 2020, said Michael Stieglitz, general manager and owner of the Nashville McDonald’s.

“We want to give our customers a new way to interact with us,” he said.

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That vision includes installing two self-ordering kiosks in the lobby for customers to use, putting digital menu boards in the drive-thru, providing table service and offering curbside delivery of orders made through the McDonald’s app.

The self-ordering kiosks will launch March 16. Guests don’t have to use them, but they will be an option instead of standing in line to have an employee take their order.

The Nashville McDonald’s has been providing table service since June.

All McDonald’s restaurants nationwide will be required to have all of these elements by 2020, Stieglitz said.

He said the Nashville McDonald’s decided to do table service earlier because they wanted to phase in the changes.

“As I am sure you can imagine, it would be quite overwhelming for somebody to learn how to do kiosk and learn how to take food to tables,” Stieglitz said. “We just wanted to be ahead of the curve. We try to be ahead of the curve.”

Being ahead of the curve allowed Stieglitz, whose family owns the McDonald’s restaurant on Hawthorne Drive, to be in the first wave of changes to the restaurants nationwide.

The restaurant has had digital menu boards in the lobby for five years and they remodeled the inside of the restaurant three years ago. Putting digital menu boards outside will let customers see food options more clearly and allow the restaurant to change up menu offerings depending on the time of day.

“It’s recapturing space that we just have not been able to utilize,” he said.

Stieglitz said a common myth about self-ordering kiosks is that they will replace jobs, but that is untrue, because the addition of the kiosks will result in six additional jobs in Nashville.

The new guest experience employees need to be outgoing and friendly; and they need to be service-oriented and have “a heart for treating people with kindness and care,” Stieglitz said.

The final requirement is that they’ve never worked in a McDonald’s before, he said.

“These people will not be trained on how to make the food, how to take orders, how to serve people through the drive-thru,” Stieglitz said. “They will be greeting all of our customers as they come to the door.”

The starting wage is $9 an hour for a guest service employee if he or she can work full-time and has open availability.

The point of “Experience of the Future” is making dining in easier and more comfortable on the customer, Stieglitz said.

“Nothing changes in the drive-thru, and nothing changes for to-go orders. You’re still going to place your order and carry your food out. But inside, while you’re here, we want to turn McDonald’s into a destination for people to come eat as opposed to just a pit stop for people to come eat,” he said.

“We want our customers to feel like when they come here, they are taken care of in a way that makes them feel good about being here and obviously what they are eating,” he said.

“It’s a more soft approach to the ‘fast food’ dining experience. We want to slow that experience down on the inside. That doesn’t mean it’s going to take us 10 minutes to make your Big Mac; it just means from start to finish, we don’t want it to be a hustle and a bustle.”

The restaurant also will use computerized table locators to help runners match the food on their trays with the people who ordered it.

Another part of the initiative is mobile app ordering, which Nashville McDonald’s has been doing since October.

“I would encourage everybody to download the McDonald’s app and use it. You can pick it up curbside. That’s part of the new experience of how we can deliver the customer’s order so they don’t have to get in line and wait for the drive-thru to move,” Stieglitz said. “They can just sit in their car and wait and we’ll bring it to you curbside.”

The restaurant has planned a series of “community partner days” in March to encourage customers to use the new kiosks while helping a local nonprofit.

“You know how change can be, it can be a little challenging, but we want our customers to enjoy these kiosks and enjoy their experience using them,” Stieglitz said.

Jay Moberly comes to McDonald’s about three or four times a week. He was drinking a cup of coffee next to the large front window in the lobby when the Democrat caught up with him.

He said the self-ordering kiosks may be helpful, but he’s not sure yet without trying it. “Is that going to help things? I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see. We’ll find out, I guess,” he said. “I really would say I question the theory of it. I would have to see it to believe it.”

The biggest benefit of the kiosks is order accuracy, Stieglitz added.

“Believe it or not, 70 percent of the time when a customer’s order is made incorrectly, it’s because our order taker inputted the information incorrectly. By our customers inputting their own information, we know that it’s going back to the kitchen correct 100 percent of the time,” he said.

McDonald's grand opening

The Nashville McDonald’s, on Hawthorne Drive, will have a grand opening to celebrate recent additions under the McDonald’s Experience of the Future initiative, including two self-ordering kiosks in the lobby and digital menus in the drive-thru.

The grand opening will be Friday, March 16 with a Brown County Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting at 11 a.m.

The first 150 people to order using the kiosks will receive a punch card that will get them one free Coke a week for the year. Customers can win other prizes by taking a selfie with the kiosk from March 16 to 22. The winning photo will be drawn from a hat.

March 19 to 22, McDonald’s will host four community days in which the restaurant will donate 10 percent of kiosk sales that day to the organization:

Monday, March 19: Brown County Veterans of Foreign Wars

Tuesday, March 20: The Salvation Army

Wednesday, March 21: The Brown County Literacy Coalition. BCLC will also have a donation box for books and customers will receive a free small soda or coffee for bringing in a book donation.

Thursday, March 22: Keep Brown County Beautiful

Shepherd of the Hills Evangelical Lutheran Church also will be collecting donations for their food pantry from March 16 to 18. Customers who donate a nonperishable item in the lobby drop box will receive a free small coffee or soda.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.