May 30, 2005

NEWS: New McDonald's device targets tech-savvy youth

CHICAGO - Burning CD's, downloading mobile phone ring tones, even printing digital quality photos could soon be the newest things on the McDonald's menu.

In a bid to draw the young and tech-savvy into its restaurants, McDonald's Corp. has begun pilot testing a new ATM-style device called the Blaze Net, that allows customers to buy music, ring tones, print photos and surf the Web at the restaurant.

Open since last Monday the new flagship restaurant near Oakbrook Center Mall near Chicago combines several high-tech gadgets yet to be seen in more conventional McDonald's eateries. The gadgets appear alongside such food offerings including lattes in the McCafe section of the store that is more reminiscent of a Starbucks than a burger joint.

"It is clearly unique and not a traditional restaurant," said Bill Whitman, a McDonald's spokesman. "But it is a peek at the future of McDonald's through the use of technology, innovative design and contemporary space."

What is compelling, according to Whitman, is the fact that the new restaurant "gives our customers the ability to do things at McDonald's they can't do at other places. Quite honestly with some of the media centers you don't even need a credit or debit card, you can pay with cash and download your favorite songs on to your own CD."

While it is too early for Whitman to say what will happen with the ATM-Style "Blaze Net" media centers, he said, "so far the customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive."

The pilot test employs four remote computer screens at sit-down stations linked to two Blaze Net media production centers that spit out CDs and pictures. The test is expected to be expanded once the initial 60 to 90 day test period is completed, according to Jonathon First, chief marketing officer for Digital Transaction Machines, the New York-based company that supplies the equipment.

"The first step in the U.S. is Oakbrook," said First. "Then we are going to start, I believe the southeast, probably West Virginia and Florida are the next two testing steps."

The 60- to 90-day pilot test of the technology follows the initial introduction of similar equipment in Munich last November. That technology is now being rolled out into many of the company's 1,250 German restaurants, First said.

"We provide digital merchandise, whether it's music on CD's that can be delivered in under 2 minutes, photos in 6 seconds a piece produced professionally or ring tones that are instant. We also have the capability for ticketing - whether its live events or movies - and eventually we are going to have DVD's and videos as well."


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