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Tech Savvy: McDonald's turns to mobile app, add reserve parking

McDonald's now offers curbside pickup for customers who place their order using a mobile order app. Parking spaces are designated for those orders. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
The curbside pickups have customers entering a number in the app on their smartphone to alert the crew they are ready for the order. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 2

It happens—you're overworked, short on time and spread too thin to cobble together a proper meal, or maybe you've got the kind of hunger only a 20-pack of McNuggets will satisfy.

To each their own. Many reasons bring us to the Golden Arches.

Maybe while you've been waiting in the drive-thru window line or jockeying for a parking spot of your own, you've chanced upon another aspect of McDonald's that wasn't present until more recently—a pair of slick square signs, standing watch over two parking spots reserved for mobile orders, curbside pick-up.

Which brings me to the McDonald's App. Simply pick up your smartphone and mosey on over to your friendly App Store or Play Store. There, you shall find the McDonald's App, free to download at your leisure.

With a flick of the wrist and a glide of the thumb, customers can navigate the user-friendly interface with ease. It functions a lot like Ebay or Amazon—products lined up in visually-appealing lists nestled in categories (which, in a tactile sense, are much like drawers).

Simply select what you want—whether that's a coupon for a $1 hamburger from "Deals," a large coke from "Beverages," a cone from "Sweets & Treats," or a medium fries from "Sides & Fries," etc. Now, these "Deals," or digital coupons, are pretty nifty—they change from day to day and have their expiration date listed in bold letters. Anyone with a grain of sense can see that's "how they get you," but to McDonald's credit, this feature—which can also be scanned like a real coupon—is a handy way to shave a couple dollars off your final order.

Just like the aforementioned sites, the item or "deal" is dropped into a shopping cart (or bag in this case), where it will wait until you've completed your order and are ready to pay.

Again—a la Amazon—paying is a simple matter of entering your credit or debit card information into the boxes and—voila!—your order is submitted. By default, the app automatically assigns you to the nearest McDonald's, but you have the option of selecting any of the McDonalds in the world, at your discretion.

And so, in my own introduction to the app, I made my order. I hopped in my sedan and cruised across Highway 210, over to the McDonald's located at 521 West Washington St.—a journey that covered less than 150 yards as the crow flies, though I admit I could have taken the scenic route. In the scheme of things, that short jaunt was probably the most taxing aspect of my experience with the app, which has made a business founded on hassle-free service so free of hassle that it boggles the mind.

"The popular narrative is that kiosks and mobile ordering are here to take jobs and hours away from underpaid cashiers, ultimately saving companies money in the face of rising labor costs — but the data suggests that isn't true," Business Insider reported in July. "It may be true for some, but most chains are simply reallocating labor behind the scenes. And with such a tight labor market, many chains are struggling to hire and retain customer-facing employees."

If, like me, you take advantage of the curbside delivery feature, you'll slide into one of the reserved parking spaces marked out by the slick signs. You punch in the number of your parking stall—mine happened to be "3"—then you hit the button indicating you've arrived. Bingo! Presto! Fineto! McDonald's employees are now diligently crafting your order. All you have to do is sit in your car, wait, and they should ferry your food out in roughly 5 minutes.

Now, I suppose it would be a great opportunity to browse social media, catch a quick cat nap or stare off into space with nary a thought in my head, but I decided to look over the app again. Bare in mind, it may send you pings or notifications of great deals to be had—again, that's "how they get you"—and once you've gone app, there's no going back.

That being said, I can't tell you how blissful it was to dispense with the lines and cashier chit-chat and, instead, save my mandibles for a $4.99 20-pack of McNuggets. Once my order was done, a teenager garbed in McDonald's black scurried out, holding my order aloft like precious cargo. I opened my driver-side window. He handed me the bag. I gave a nod. He gave a nod. And that was that. Smoother than molasses. Easy peasy.

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