April 09, 2001, 11:22 AM — MEALS RECENTLY GOT even happier at four McDonald's restaurants in southern California. Thanks to a time-conscious franchise owner in San Diego, drive-thru customers can now bypass cashiers completely.
Patti Widdicombe, whose family bought its first McDonald's restaurant more than 43 years ago, came up with the idea to "FasTrak" Big Macs using the same windshield transponders that allow for cash-less toll crossings. "I wanted to help customers who waste time digging around for their wallets at the drive-thru," she says. "I figured if [the transponder] works so well on the tollway, why can't we use it at McDonald's?"
In the spring of 2000 she teamed up with Orange County, Calif.'s toll authority to offer 270,000 FasTrak users the option of skipping the payment window. Receivers mounted near the drive-thru menu detect the transponders, says Karen Garcia, director of operations of McDonald's West division. A light near the register prompts the employee taking the order to confirm that the customer wants to use his FasTrak.
Widdicombe says the response from customers, employees and managers has been overwhelmingly positive, which increases the chances that more McDonald's will adopt the FasTrak technology. McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa Howard says that other cash-free alternatives are being tested elsewhere. For example, since October 2000, customers at nine McDonald's in the greater Chicago area have been able to scan their Mobil Speedpass cards to pay. The one thing the transponders can't detect? If you'd like fries with that.