The McDonald’s dining experience in downtown Columbus is about to change, part of a transformation already underway nationwide.

Customers can expect more automation, personalized table service and expanded seating opportunities when changes are unveiled locally by Feb. 5.

Renovations at the 611 Third St. location, operated by franchise owner Andy Ball, are scheduled to begin Jan. 8, when restaurant service will be limited to drive-through orders for about three weeks while remodeling commences indoors.

The global fast-food operator announced in spring that it would be launching its Experience of the Future concept. More than 1,000 restaurants across the country already have implemented the design changes, said Ball, who also operates McDonald’s restaurants in Trafalgar, Franklin and Brownstown.

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The company’s Experience of the Future plan covers the overall dining experience — how customers will order, how they pay and how they are served, Ball said.

Differences will become apparent as soon as the customer walks in the door.

Under the new design for inside the restaurant, customers can expect to see two self-order touchscreen kiosks as they enter.

“If guests want to come in and order the traditional way, they can. But we’re going to encourage them to come to the kiosks where they can go through the menu and go through the screens,” Ball said. “It’s another big change in how we traditionally have served customers.”

Once limited to walk-in or drive-through, tech-savvy customers can also order their food by using a McDonald’s app on their mobile device — with the ability to designate pick-up in the drive-thru, at the front counter or at a designated parking spot, where an employee brings their food to them.

Kiosk ordering now becomes the newest option.

Once a kiosk order has been completed, customers will receive a number that will allow a McDonald’s employee to deliver the order directly to a customer’s table using an electronic transponder, Ball said.

Kiosks will allow customers to pay by credit card or with Apple Pay. If customers want to pay with cash, they can print a ticket and bring it to the front counter, Ball said.

The kiosks are being offered to make the ordering experience more efficient, Ball said. As customers orient themselves to the new approach, guest experience ambassadors will be available to assist with the two-sided kiosks, he said.

More customer choices

While their food is being prepared, customers will be able to pick out a table that suits their need.

“The guests are going to have more choices. So if a group of eight comes in, they should be able to find a place where they can all sit together,” Ball said. “The customer interaction is paramount in our business.”

The seating area design is described as more urban and contemporary, allowing employees to better interact with customers, he said.

“We want to upgrade the ambiance,” Ball said. “It’s really following what the guests are saying they want.”

The forthcoming changes tied to the Experience of the Future concept follow an exterior facelift at the Third Street restaurant that was completed last year.

Columbus resident Krista Nigh, who considers herself a frequent McDonald’s customer, said she thought the self-order kiosks and table service would be good improvements.

“I think it would help make things more efficient,” she said. “I think it might change the atmosphere a little bit.”

Jessie Sims, on the other hand, thought it might take a little getting used to.

“As long as people know what they’re doing,” Sims said.

Besides the changes inside, the drive-thru at the Third Street location will also get digital menu boards as part of the renovation project. That involves an investment by Ball estimated at just over $300,000, with the remaining funds being picked up by McDonald’s, he said.

Between now and the end of 2019, all McDonald’s restaurants are expected to see the new features at their stores, Ball said. His McDonald’s restaurants in Franklin and Brownstown are scheduled for their improvements in 2018, while work at the Trafalgar store will take place in 2019.

Renovation timeline

Work is expected to begin on Experience of the Future improvements at the McDonald’s in downtown Columbus at 611 E. Third St.

Renovation work starts Jan. 8, resulting in the inside of the store being unavailable for about three weeks. The drive-thru will remain open for customers during the interior remodeling.

The project is expected to be wrapped up by Feb. 5, said Andy Ball, franchise owner.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com