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story.lead_photo.caption Employees stand near new self-order kiosks last week in the McDonald’s Corp. flagship restaurant in Chicago. The burger chain and its franchisees are modernizing their restaurants nationwide.

About 100 McDonald's restaurants in Arkansas are getting a $69 million makeover that isn't just skin deep.

It is part of a $6 billion investment nationwide by McDonald's Corp. and its franchisees to modernize the 78-year-old restaurant chain synonymous with fast food and engage more with tech savvy consumers.

The changes include new dining rooms and refreshed exteriors and installing digital self-order kiosks and new digital menu boards inside and at the drive-through. The restaurants also will have designated parking spaces for curbside pickup for people who order and pay with their cellphones.

David Stokes, president of the ArkLATex co-op, which represents 176 restaurants in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and the owner of 11 McDonald's restaurants in Conway, Faulkner, Lonoke and White counties, said the investment in technology is a recognition that the way customers buy and consume has changed.

"We recognize ... that times change and evolve," the Cabot resident said in an interview Tuesday. "We all grew up with the old McDonald's look but as times have changed, it's a more modernized look, a more modernized lobby, the ability to use technology, which is a big player now and into the future.

"We just need to be able to meet the customers where they're at. That's where they're increasingly going to. We want to be seamless and able to meet whatever need the customer might have and technology is a big, big piece of that."

The kiosks, which already are available at some restaurants in central Arkansas, "will allow customers to move at their own pace and not be rushed or hurried," Stokes said.

The kiosks also will change how restaurant employees will interact with the customers, he said. Customers will make an order at the kiosk, sit at a table and wait for an employee to deliver their food and drinks.

The kiosks won't cost jobs, said Stokes, whose 11 restaurants employ more than 650 people.

That the technology upgrade will require fewer employees "couldn't be further from the truth," he said.

"It's more of an opportunity for us to get our employees out in front of the customer and try to work on our hospitality through the kiosk and then table service where we can bring your food to your table and assist you that way," he said. "With all the touch points we have with the kiosks, mobile devices, delivery, we need more employees, not less.

"What you'll see is more and more employees being hired definitely in customer facing positions, out in front and interacting with the customers more."

The new menu boards also already have begun appearing at area McDonald's.

They will provide a "more upscale look" and be "easier to look at and read than menu boards in the past," Stokes said. "At some point, these menus boards will be able to be personalized for the customers in the drive through as they are easing up."

The investment also will support local jobs in architecture, engineering and construction.

"McDonald's is an important local business and provider in the community," said Montine McNulty, chief executive officer of the Arkansas Hospitality and Restaurant Association. "McDonald's is helping create and sustain local jobs not only in the restaurant industry but also in the communities they serve."

The changes being incorporated into the restaurant chain reflects how modern consumers are more comfortable in front of a computer screen.

"I'm on the back end of the baby-boom generation," Stokes said. "Although I use technology, my children and grandchildren use it a lot more than I do. We've got to be able to meet those needs."

Business on 08/15/2018

Print Headline: 100 McDonald's restaurants in Arkansas to get $69M high tech redo

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