When it comes to moving toward automation and reducing minimum wage jobs in a more expensive labor market it looks like McDonald’s isn’t clowning around. (Sorry… I’ll get my hat.) It’s not as if we didn’t have any warning, particularly when you consider that the company’s former CEO told us more than a year ago that he was ready for the robot revolution and anything else which could automate his business. Since then the experiments have been ramping up. You may recall that the Golden Arches introduced their first Big Mac vending machine not too long ago. But now, following in the footsteps of several other chains like Starbucks, McDonald’s is beginning a major West Coast rollout testing a mobile app which will allow customers to place orders, pay for their meal and even select where they would like to pick it up, all using their cell phone before they even reach the store. (Associated Press)

McDonald’s has started testing mobile order-and-pay after acknowledging the ordering process in its restaurants can be “stressful.”

The company says it will gather feedback from the test before launching the option nationally toward the end of the year. It says mobile order-and-pay is now available at 29 stores in Monterey and Salinas, California, and will expand to 51 more locations in Spokane, Washington, next week.

The rollout comes as customers increasingly seek out convenience through options like online ordering or delivery. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook has noted the initial stages of visiting can be “stressful,” and the chain is making changes to improve the overall customer experience. That includes introducing ordering kiosks, which McDonald’s says can help ease lines at the counter and improve the accuracy of orders — another frustration for customers. Easterbrook has also talked about the potential of delivery.

The way they are framing this development in the new marketing push is fairly predictable and almost precisely the same approach taken by Starbucks. The app is being pitched as something which customers would clearly want because the ordering process at their stores can be “stressful.” Honestly? I’ll grant you that standing in line can be kind of a pain at times and dealing with the workers behind the counter isn’t always a joy, but I don’t think I’ve ever found myself being stressed out at the prospect of attempting to order a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

What’s really going on here is that the new app will make them competitive with the rest of the outlets who are providing this level of convenience to a new generation of consumers who have grown used to such things. That competitive edge fits in nicely with the corporation’s previously stated plans to reduce the number of workers at the counter and offer diners more automated options. They already have kiosks installed for a trial run in a number of locations and they will very soon be the default way of ordering at most locations.

McDonald’s management never wants to go out and have a public discussion of the upward pressure on their labor costs brought about by activists pushing to increase the minimum wage, but that phenomenon is at the heart of these changes. The fact is that they would’ve done this years ago (as soon as all this new technology became available) but it didn’t make business sense to invest all that capital in the technology when you could still hire some kids straight out of high school for six bucks an hour. That’s no longer the case these days, and if the market continues to improve and workers are more scarce, costs will only rise further. So I suppose it was inevitable that this was coming.

I’ll get back to you with more on this subject just as soon as I figure out how to work this newfangled app on my phone.