McDonald’s goes cashless

Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — McDonald’s wants to make fast food even faster.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based restaurant chain is monitoring closely a marketing test that lets its patrons use a tiny, gray plastic wand to pay for meals, instead of cash.

The concept, while novel, is by no means new, but McDonald’s, which is testing it in 26 locations in Boise, thinks it might be a good idea.

More than 2,000 people have signed up for the program, which, essentially, gives them the convenience of waving the wand in front of an electronic sensor to pay for a meal. There’s no fumbling for loose change or looking for smaller bills.

"Fast food is not fast anymore," says Jerry McVety, the president of McVety &amp Associates, a Farmington Hills, Mich.-based food service consulting group.

If the concept sounds familiar, it is. The same technology is increasingly used to let commuters breeze through toll plazas.

A version called E-ZPass has garnered more than 6 million users in and around New York City. The system, much like the one McDonald’s is testing, lets users roll through toll plazas at 5 mph.

E-ZPass transponders, which deduct tolls from a prepaid account, are affixed to the windshield behind a vehicle’s rearview mirror. On the George Washington Bridge that spans the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey, 78 percent of drivers use the cashless system, says Walter Kristlibas, E-ZPass director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The McDonald’s trial electronic payment program in Chicago, which McVety says has proven popular, works with Speedpass, a system developed three years ago by Mobil for use at its gas pumps and which the company is now offering other businesses.

Participants wave a tiny, barrel-shaped Speedpass transponder at the cash register, or at a drive-through window. Each Speedpass then charges a purchase to a credit or debit account.

The system is similar to that being tried in Boise by McDonald’s, which was developed by Pennsylvania-based FreedomPay, Inc. Inside the FreedomPay wand, a microchip contains a customer identification number read by the sensor. The information is electronically transmitted to a computer server where the customer’s account is charged.

Using a credit or debit card, participants can "load" their FreedomPay account via the Internet or over the phone. McDonald’s isn’t limiting its testing to Chicago or Idaho.

In Orange County, Calif., McDonald’s uses FasTrak, a system originally designed to be used like E-ZPass. Company spokeswoman Lisa Howard says the test is slated to expand from four to 50 California McDonald’s.

"When they did it in Orange County, they found that people spent more," said Peter Oakes, a restaurant analyst for Merrill Lynch in New York. "When it’s already paid, people are less hesitant and focus less on price and more on the food."

McDonald’s is not the first fast-food chain to test cashless systems.

"We tested a smart card technology in several areas," says Burger King spokeswoman Kim Miller. "We had very mixed results."

Ultimately, the plan — which used microchip-based debit cards with preloaded dollar amounts — was scrapped.

Still, the second-largest fast food chain is watching to see what happens.

"We’re keeping an eye out," Miller added.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Two snowboarders head up the mountain in a lift chair on the opening day of ski season at Stevens Pass Ski Area on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, near Skykomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Ski season delayed at Stevens Pass due to no snow

Resort originally planned to open Dec. 1. But staff are hopeful this week’s snow will allow guests to hit the slopes soon.

Siblings Qingyun, left, and Ruoyun Li, 12 and 13, respectively, are together on campus at Everett Community College on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in Everett, Washington. The two are taking a full course load at the community college this semester. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Siblings, age 12 and 13, are youngest students at EvCC campus

Qingyun Li was 11 when he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT test. His sister, Ruoyun, was one point away.

Edmond’s newly elected mayor Mike Rosen on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mayor-elect Rosen wants to ‘make Edmonds politics boring again’

Mike Rosen handily defeated incumbent Mayor Mike Nelson. He talked with The Herald about how he wants to gather the “full input” of residents.

A speed camera facing west along 220th Street Southwest on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Traffic cameras, and tickets, come to Edmonds; Mukilteo could be next

New school zone cameras in Edmonds will begin operating in January. Mukilteo is considering enforcement cameras as well.

A person walks their dog along a flooded Old Snohomish Monroe Road on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Flood-resistant floors and sandbags are price of riverside life in Sultan

Flooding is a threat every year for 75,000 locals — and the long-term forecast suggests it’ll only get worse in the coming decades.

Everett Community College is introducing a new Trojan design as the college's symbol of student spirit and athletics. The design incorporates the Feather Star, EvCC's official logo, in the Trojan's cape.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Amid staffing crisis, student nurses run into shortages in education too

Everett Community College’s nursing program has 79 slots. Hundreds apply each year — and that’s just the first hurdle.

A family walks through the Wintertide lights Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, at Legion Park in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Wintertide Lights returns for the month of December in Everett

The free family event is open nightly at Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens in Legion Park.

Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the 196th ST SW Improvement Project near the 196th and 44th Ave West intersection in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Lynnwood council, jarred by anti-Semitic rants, approves tax increase

Three people spewed hate speech via Zoom at a council meeting this week. Then, the council moved on to regular business.

From the patrol car footage of Everett police officer Ryan Greely, Molly Wright sits in the back of a police car after being arrested for obstructing a law enforcement officer on Aug. 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Screenshot from a video provided by Molly Wright)
‘My rights were violated’: Everett officer arrests woman filming him

Ryan Greely arrested Molly Wright in August on charges of obstructing, though state law generally allows filming police in public.

The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Over $130M for affordable housing set to be approved by County Council

The five-year investment plan of the 0.1% sales tax aims to construct 550 new affordable units.

Man killed in Highway 99 crash near Lynnwood identified

Brian Paulin, 32, lost control while driving on Lincoln Way and Highway 99.

The county canvassing board certifies election results at the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
General election results stamped official by canvassing board

In Snohomish County, one hand recount will take place. Officials said ballot challenges were down this year.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.