An experiment McDonald’s has been testing in Europe has now made its way to the states: a new Virginia Beach, Va., restaurant in the chain has installed iPads at tables that patrons can use free of charge. This is a stunt that’s gotten the chain some press, but it’s unlikely we’ll see iPads become standard equipment at McDonald’s in future.
The burger giant has been exploring social media marketing for a while with mixed success — 23 million Facebook fans can’t be wrong, but its social games are a mixed bag and its Twitter campaigns have bombed.
of iPads might seem like a logical next step, but adding tableside gadgets poses a few problems:
- Unhipness. Perhaps McDonald’s hasn’t noticed that most American youth already have their own Internet-enabled mobile device, that’s got all their passwords and favorites preset. Use McDonald’s clunky, bolted-down white iPad? They probably wouldn’t be caught dead being that kind of dork. That leaves McDonald’s other core audience, senior citizens, who might not have as many devices, won’t care if it’s dorky, and could be major table hogs. This could lead to…
- Clogged tables. If diners could sit in McDonald’s for hours playing games on Facebook with their friends, quite a few probably would. Which isn’t good, since the goal of all fast-food restaurants is to turn tables and move hordes of customers back out the doors as fast as possible to make room for the next wave of diners. As a restaurant owner, you want people to eat and leave. The chain already installed closed-circuit TV screens, which should pose enough distraction.
- Cost. Anytime you ask franchise owners to shell out for another new add-on, there’s going to be resistance. If every table is going to get an iPad, that would add up. And if there are only a few iPad-equipped tables, expect kiddie whining to break out if the ones that have the gadgets are taken.
- Crime. Owners of McDonald’s franchises in high-crime areas will be leery about installing these — and many units are located in low-income neighborhoods. Having a half-dozen or more iPads on view in your store is like putting up a neon sign pointing thieves in the doors. Yes, the iPads are mounted to the tables, but it’ll probably take crooks a flat minute to figure out how to pry them loose.
It’s a no-brainer to add iPads to some of the flagship McDonald’s, such as units in big amusement parks. These restaurants are bigger than a typical McDonald’s, so if a few tables are monopolized with social-media addicts it’s not a big deal. Also, in those settings diners have more than the usual motivation to move on to the next attraction.
But I’m not expecting to be cruising the Internet at my local McDonald’s any time soon, unless I remember to bring my smartphone.