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McDonald's Is Testing New Self-Serve Digital Coffee Kiosks

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The fast-food giant is brewing something new

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McDonald's is trying out a new approach to customizable coffee drinks, perhaps in an effort to give its McCafe brand new life. Brand Eating reports that a self-serve coffee kiosk has been spotted in a downtown Chicago McDonald's. Photos of the contraption show a touch-screen ordering system, suggesting the device might appeal to those who want a cup of coffee, and don't want to wait in line for it.

[Photo: @bizzle_scott/Used with permission of Brand Eating]

The new touchscreen coffee kiosk at McDonald's in Chicago. [Photo: BScott/Used with permission of Brand Eating]

Drink options include "lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos that are customizable with various flavorings, types of milk, and amount of espresso." There doesn't appear to be an option for regular, drip coffee. Drinks start at $2.99 each.

As Brand Eating notes, the coffee dispenser looks like a miniature version of McDonald's Create Your Taste Kiosks, a touch screen ordering system the company launched in select locations last year. Digital ordering modules are being tested in various ways at restaurants across the country, so it's not hard to imagine a future — spurred by a rising minimum wage? — in which restaurant orders are placed by consumers themselves with the help of a tablet or touch screen.

Infiltrating the luxury coffee business has been a goal of McDonald's since it launched its line of so-called premium coffee drinks in 2006. At the time, business analysts said the move was an effort to replicate the success of caffeine juggernaut Starbucks. Coffee sales at McDonald's eventually beat expectations, but they didn't seem to cut into Starbucks' earnings. McDonald's was going after a different customers€ — ones that valued price over bean origins, milk substitutes, and indie CDs sold at the counter. This latest move — to remove the barista from the equation — ”isn't entirely surprising, especially because McDonald's coffee drinks come out of a machine, anyway.

[Photo: tktk]

One type of back of house McCafe machine. [Photo: Kim Whispers/Flickr]

At the same time, the self-serve station seems to take a page out of Coca Cola's Freestyle book, offering selection, (the perception of) value, and an interactive experience.

So far, people seem to like pouring their own drinks. According to Coca-Cola's own research (which, admittedly, might be a little slanted), consumers are so enamored with the self-serve Coke machines they often choose a restaurant simply based on whether or not it has a Freestyle machine.

It's too soon to tell whether the McDonald's kiosk will be as successful as the Freestyle machine (it's unlikely that people will down vanilla lattes as often as they do Diet Cokes), but it's safe to say the company is looking at coffee as a potential growth area. Last year, McDonald's and Kraft Foods Group announced a deal to expand the McCafe brand in the U.S. McDonald's did not respond to repeated requests for comment about this new coffee station. Could similar kiosks begin to pop up beneath the golden arches across the country — or even in places other than McDonald's? This remains to be seen.