McDonald's Remote Ordering System Is Gaining Popularity

In 2006 we reported that McDonald’s was testing a system in which drive-thru orders were being taken by employees at a remote location, usually in another state altogether. Nearly 2 years later, the system has proven successful in some areas and is being used in over half of the McDonald’s in Hawaii, according to KITV. Apparently, the system enhances the speed and accuracy of orders and most customers don’t even realize the difference. More, inside…

The article says,

McDonald’s began trying the idea four years ago in Illinois and Missouri. Out-sourcing drive-through order workers began in Hawaii two years ago. Recently it has expanded.

KITV went to one drive-through Wednesday and found the company is still working out the kinks. At the Keeaumoku Street McDonald’s, the people taking drive-through orders were in another time zone. “I am currently talking to you from El Paso, Texas, sir,” the drive-through operator said.

KITV asked the Texas call-takers if they are having a difficult time understanding people from Hawaii. “We’ve been out here for about seven months, so it kind of takes me a while just to understand,” the worker said.

The long-distance call-takers send back the orders to the restaurant via the Internet. There the restaurant employees take the cash and hand over the food.

We suppose that fast food is meant to be fast, so if the system works then why not? Who hasn’t been to a drive-thru that could have benefited from a little more speed and accuracy?


McDonald’s Using Out-Of-State Workers For Drive-Through
[KITV] (Thanks to Gregg!)
Many Hawaii McDonald’s Drive-Throughs Use Workers In Texas [KITV]
(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. Mr_D says:

    When I first read about this, I thought it was brilliant. Good to hear it’s successful.

  2. InThrees says:

    Ok but if I ever pull up the speaker and ‘Dave’ asks me what I want with a Farsi accent, then we’ll know they’ve taken it a little too far.

  3. GMFish says:

    I don’t see how having a person taking an order in a different state would speed up the process or be more accurate than someone taking the order at the resturant.

    In both situations you give your order, someone, either in a different state or at the resturant, inputs the order. The “cook” sees that inputed order and then warms up the food. And then someone puts it in a bag and gives it too you. Where or when does the speed gain or accuracy occur?!

    I do see how that would save money. Which is the real reason for the switch.

  4. Ein2015 says:

    If it increases accuracy, I’m all for it.

  5. Skankingmike says:

    fast food + drive up = fat people.

  6. onebadazzmofo says:

    Personally I just see the possibility of their servers crashing or what not and causing more problems,

  7. freshyill says:

    @GMFish: Maybe by focusing on just that one task, and working in a better environment, they can work more efficiently.

    They’re probably sitting at a desk in a clean, quiet office building. Nobody’s frying anything five feet away, and they don’t have to deal with customer complaints, payment, etc.

    They probably also work at a better computer, and not just a register with a limited number of buttons, so that’s another opportunity to make things better for the person taking the order.

  8. Erwos says:

    It’s about outsourcing. Your orders will be taken by Indians within a couple years. Of course, the good news is, you’ll probably be punching your order in via touchscreen within five, so everyone will be out of a job equally.

  9. freshyill says:

    @Skankingmike: Yeah, because most people usually jog to McDonald’s.

  10. Nissan288 says:

    It would be faster because the person collecting your money is also taking the next order and possibly the one after that. If they just used call centers, the person taking your order only focuses on that order. They might not have to take the next one for that location. For all we know, it might jump around.

    In some places, the person that takes your order, then your money, and gives you the food is the same person. Now try to do that by yourself for set of 20 orders that come in every 30 seconds (lunch time rush)

    I’m glad to see they aren’t cutting back people in the restaurants themselves.

  11. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @GMFish: I would think it would free up the onsite people to do what onsite people are for; that is, physical work. Every time you take someone off the floor to basically just talk and punch a keyboard, you lose their productivity as a cook, cashier, and so forth. Talking and punching a keyboard is something you can do anywhere… case in point, I’m providing tech support to a large multinational oil company as a telecommuter right now. Well, not RIGHT now… but you know.

    @Skankingmike: The hell was that for?

  12. alice_bunnie says:

    I think they will only do this in states with high minimum wages. So they can outsource to states with low minimum wages. :/

  13. Taed says:

    While it’s possible that the system uses the Internet (note capital I) as the article states, it’s much more likely that they have a private network to each of these stores. I work with large companies with thousands of sites, and they typically have a T1 to each branch, which has both voice and data on it. For something like a typical McDonald’s, I would think they’d have 4 voice lines and 4 data channels (giving “only” 32 KBps). However, I know that many McDonald’s also have “hot spots” which would at first seem to up the desire for data bandwidth, but I would expect that to use a different, locally-supplied network connection, one which does not go over McDonald’s corporate network.

  14. SaveMeJeebus says:

    @InThrees: “Hello, my name is Dave. How will you be ordering from us today? Are you liking a liter of cola as well?”

  15. HalOfBorg says:

    @GMFish: I think that the idea is that you (the customer) are talking to a person who takes orders. That is ALL they do. They don’t have any other fast-food type issues to deal with. And they are probably sitting at a reasonably comfy desk.

    It’s always better to deal with a professional.

    UNLESS they work for Wal-Mart. Or Best Buy. Or Circuit City. Or…………..

  16. cmdrsass says:

    Wendy’s has been doing this for a few years. It was so “successful” that the two restaurants I used both discontinued it. One problem it had was that if you were stuck in line and weren’t lined up with the speaker, the remote order taker would only ask your for your order once. By the time you got to the speaker, they assumed no one was there, so you were stuck waiting for someone to figure out the system was out of sync.

  17. Parting says:

    I never understand McDo’s speakers, quality if often lacking. So I would prefer a touch screen anyway :)

  18. Juggernaut says:

    They should have done this at the Olympia Diner

  19. camille_javal says:

    @ Erwos – between the weak dollar and the improving Indian economy (thanks to all the work we sent over), it will be too expensive to outsource to India.

  20. chuckv says:

    @alice_bunnie:
    Nice to see local governments taking jobs from their citizens

  21. pmathews says:

    I can haz burgers?

  22. ekthesy says:

    @SaveMeJeebus:

    I was called by an Indian call center this weekend, and the representative identified himself as “Maverick.”

  23. Gokuhouse says:

    My prediction to this is:
    It will catch on and be very popular…until they outsource to nations that do not speak English well. There will also be 30 minute hold times at the drive-thru because “all their operators are currently assisting other customers.”

  24. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    @Erwos: I wonder how operators would feel taking orders of ground up beef. Imagine you were a call center operator taking orders for horse meat from overseas.

    Burgers breed terrorism?

  25. Skankingmike says:

    @speedwell: I am anti most fast food places they are unhealthy and for people who are too lazy to make their own food (yes there are times that you need a quick bite to eat I suggest a sandwich place). which usually doesn’t have a drive through.

    the only time drive-thru should be used is at those rest stop stations along the highways makes sense there. But suburban America? is your life that crazy you can’t get out of your car?

    @freshyill: Bill Clinton did ;)

  26. Youthier says:

    @Victo: Touch screens would be great if everyone was as competent as you and I.

  27. Carl3000 says:

    I wonder if they will have that forced, hyper-courteous tone that call center managers seem to think is a brilliant idea.

  28. pmathews says:

    @Skankingmike:

    Awesome, first snl reference I’ve read today.

  29. GMFish says:

    freshyill “Maybe by focusing on just that one task, and working in a better environment, they can work more efficiently.”

    And maybe by talking to the customer face-to-face they’d be more accurate.

    Nissan288 “In some places, the person that takes your order, then your money, and gives you the food is the same person. Now try to do that by yourself for set of 20 orders that come in every 30 seconds (lunch time rush)”

    speedwell “I would think it would free up the onsite people to do what onsite people are for; that is, physical work.”

    HalOfBorg “I think that the idea is that you (the customer) are talking to a person who takes orders. That is ALL they do.”

    Thanks, you guys prove my point exactly. I have no doubt that hiring fewer people in the resturant saves money. But, all things being equal, which means sufficient employees at the resturant and sufficient employees at the call-center, how would this speed up the process or make the process more accurate?

  30. I’m waiting for the AI who takes McD’s orders.

  31. bleh says:

    I would like this in my area. A lot of McDonald’s employees are Hispanic with poor English skills. It can be hard at times for me to understand them and for them to understand me. At the register I can at least point at a picture. At the drive up there is nothing to point at.

  32. Gokuhouse says:

    @Steaming Pile: Yeah, I look forward to repeating myself a hundred times too! I know that the IVR for most companies works flawlessly, I’m sure McDonald’s would too.

  33. Angryrider says:

    I support it! Yes let’s go to a McDonald’s restaurant with a drive through. Talk to speaker. It responds and the order taker is in another country. Finish order. Drive to window. Order will be handed to you by server in restaurant. Brilliant!
    Saves hiring another worker at minimum wages.

  34. Rock79 says:

    I suppose this is the future. It’s when things go wrong with the system that people realize that it’s rather complex for nothing. It reminds me of my work building. We routinely run out of paper towel rolls in the kitchen area (more than 50 people on our floor… we need them) and I have to call the maintenance contractor and open a ticket with them via a call center rep in order to get them to bring some up.. Instead of simply asking the maintenance guys who are usually in the vicinity. Kind of scares me in terms of what’s to come in the next 20-30 years.

  35. Been there, done that–our local McD’s franchiser did a test of this system, but gave it up after about a year.

    My experiences were mixed. Remote order-takers literally didn’t know what time it is; I’d be told that “No, you can’t buy a hamburger until 10:30 a.m.” when I tried to place an order at 10:35. I’d have to roll up to the window, snarl the order process and talk to a local human to get my pre-workout burger.

    Similarly, the order-takers weren’t “up” on local franchises. I don’t eat cheese on my burgers, and never have a problem when I order at the counter, but I would be routinely told that I couldn’t get a “double cheeseburger no cheese”.

    There were also tech issues that were particularly annoying if, like me, you were hard of hearing. At the drive-up, I could hear the handshake as the phone connection negotiated, then there was the long, garbled “welcometomcdonaldstodaysspecial …” script, and only THEN did I get to interact with a human.

    Once I did? They often had trouble hearing me. Soon after the test began, little signs saying “Due to traffic noise, please speak LOUDLY and CLEARLY” appeared under the mike.

    On the other hand, the call center our local guy used was in Minnesota, and the order-takers had American Standard accents. Much easier for the hard-of-hearing to understand than the Latin accents common in our agricultural community.

    On the whole, I didn’t see that the process saved any time for the consumer; don’t know if it was cost-effective for the franchisee …. but he did abandon remote ordering after about a year.

  36. PinkBox says:

    This reminds me of how In n’ Out Burger handles their orders on busy days. They’ll have a guy standing outside the restaurant, beside the cars, taking the orders.

    They always got the order right!

  37. freepistol says:

    so instead of paying one person to take your order, your money, and put it all into a little computer… they pay two people, one to take the order and put it in the computer, the other to take the money.

    and what happens when something gets mixed up and the money taker asks for 8.50 when allyou ordered was a 1$ cheeseburger.

  38. kurtisnelson says:

    It probably helps because they do not have to have a person dedicated to each restaurant. So, since I would assume that all drive through lines are never being used, they can have less operators than normal. Also, they probably just have a queue system like anywhere else. A specific operator is probably not attached to a specific restaurant.

  39. RBecho says:

    I have gone to a McDonalds that has this, and it works pretty well. My order was correct the first time I said it and they were courteous and polite. I have nothing but good things to say about it.

    Unfortunately, the lady giving the food / taking my money was pretty angry about the whole thing, and that was the only negative I have about it, which isn’t the systems fault.

  40. pmathews says:

    The idea sounds great and all because you don’t have an over-worked fast food employee taking your order (I was one in high school and I still remember all of it) so they may be in a better temperament. But what happens when they end up like some CSR’s and they are just bitter and angry? I would hate to argue with somebody that I can’t face about me not wanting cheese on a double cheeseburger (I don’t eat McD’s so this is the only example I can think of).

  41. pmathews says:

    @RBecho:

    Hmm…you had the opposite problem from my question. What happens if both people are angry?

  42. mzhartz says:

    When I got my first job at McDs in high school, our location was trying out face to face ordering. It was brilliant. But the person at the back window taking the orders was only taking orders, not taking money or anything else, and I’m sure it cost more money.

  43. Farquar says:

    This was featured in the book “The World Is Flat” which was written 5-6 years ago. Its been going on in the midwest since at least 2001.

    It’s faster, more efficient (at least for the restaurant) in that as Kurt mentioned above, the customers are queued. It’s not one call center operator that is connected to one restaurant. It’s hundreds of operators connected to hundreds of restaurants and the operator will get the next customer in the queue regardless of restaurant.

    To my knowledge I’ve not been to a joint that does this so have no personal experience. They spoke of it very positively in the book however.

  44. ThunderRoad says:

    Kinda sad. Eliminates the personal touch, but that’s how American consumerism works I guess.

  45. GearheadGeek says:

    @ThunderRoad: It seems kinda sad to me that we’ve already sunk to a level that talking to a person you can’t see via a crappy intercom speaker who’s 100 feet away qualifies as more of a “personal touch” than talking to a different disembodied voice that may be coming from 100 miles away.

    There’s no personal touch about ordering from a speaker in a drive-through.

  46. cmdrsass says:

    @ThunderRoad: boo-hoo sniffle sniffle

  47. Eels says:

    Yeah, they were doing this at Wendy’s. They installed three drive through speakers as some kind of gimmick I guess. One guy asks for your order, if you need a minute, by the time you’re ready it’s a new person. It didn’t work very well though. They are back to the old way, and the fancy triple drive through is abandoned.

  48. MayorBee says:

    It also helps with cutting employee theft. If Employee A takes your order, relays it to the cook, then collects your money (when it’s cash), it’s easier to steal by not entering the order into the system and just pocketing the cash. That’s why a lot of smaller places have the little sign that says “If you don’t receive a receipt for your purchase, notify the manager and your meal is free.” That forces the cashier to ring it in so the sale gets recorded.

    You can have a situation where two or three people, doing different jobs, are colluding to steal money. If the order taker doesn’t ring in the order, but tells the cook what to make, and knows the total after tax (you get to know common totals after working there for a short period of time), the cashier collects the amount from you, then divvies up the cash to the colluders.

    By having the order taker not in the store, there’s virtually no chance of collusion between the order taker/cook/cashier…if the order taker doesn’t ring in the order, your order doesn’t get made.

  49. HeartBurnKid says:

    I’m just glad they’re outsourcing it to Texas, and not India. Can you imagine the hell you’d go through to get a burger then?

  50. Snowblind says:

    @kurtisnelson:

    Yep. I managed a McDonalds in my misspent youth. Getting someone who can multitask well enough operate the drive through is no small hurdle. Often we paid them more because we needed them. Good for them, not so good if you can’t find someone to do it right.

    The fact that you can have a pool of people specially trained… that is a win/win as they say. 10 feet or 1000 miles, it does not matter.

    As for India… I doubt it. Getting people on daytime shifts here means graveyard there. Usually kills the advantage of the deal.

  51. jamesdenver says:

    Its kind of funny they mention that the call center is in Hawaii.

    It makes for a dramatic statement, but the distance is really doesn’t matter to the story.

    They could be in an office building across the street, or in the basement of the McDonalds. Its the technology and departing of normal methods that’s the story.

    just my ob.

  52. mgy says:

    This sounds like work I could do from home. Where do I sign up?

  53. WiglyWorm must cease and decist says:

    @InThrees: Beat me to the punch, lol.

  54. floyderdc says:

    Must everything be done today by having a call center involved. I am all for technology but really I just want a damn cheese burger with having to deal with call center people

  55. raidi0head says:

    @jamesdenver: The call center isn’t in Hawaii, it’s in Texas. The McD’s that are using the system are in Hawaii (among other states).

    I would like them to use this in my area as well because, as one other person stated, the people who work at the local fast food places are typically Hispanic with a limited knowledge of the English language. So, if you try to order anything out of the ordinary it will most likely be wrong.

  56. mermaidshoes says:

    @Youthier: i have ALways, always wanted touch screen ordering. even at “real” restaurants. what do i need to tip a waiter for? just have the busboy run out the food. or i’d even be willing to walk and get it myself.

  57. mermaidshoes says:

    also, this outsourcing makes me sad, because it will preclude the best fast food ordering experience i have ever had, in which the order-taker at taco bell somehow snuck outside and hid behind the big menu board, then jumped out at us after we finished our order. we didn’t know her, and there was no reason for it, and it was amazing.

  58. MonkeySwitch says:

    Yeah, I agree with other posters on McDonalds doing this to avoid paying higher minimum wages. This does nothing for local economy – especially when the outsourcing moves to India.

  59. Fujikopez says:

    You all have it wrong. My FIL’s wife is a McD’s order-taker…from her computer room in Podunk-town, North Dakota. There is no call center. All these people work from home. And McD’s doesn’t pay too bad, if you don’t have any skills and live in the middle of nowhere and save money by not having to drive 40 miles to work every day. I don’t know what she makes exactly (although I know she was ok with whatever it was), but minimum wage in ND is the lowest, national minimum wage.

    And she is not “dedicated” to one restaurant, she takes calls from different McD’s for every call. She still has quotas she has to meet, and I’m sure all normal call center rules apply, but she works from home.

  60. thesabre says:

    Just wait until you get one of those CSRs like the one mentioned in that hosting article the other day.

    Customer: I’d like a cheeseburger. Does that have tomatoes on it?
    CSR: It frightens me when people don’t know what is on a cheeseburger.
    Customer: Ok. We’ll, please don’t put tomatoes on it.
    CSR: You lack the knowledge to eat at McDonald’s.

  61. floyderdc says:

    @Fujikopez: I stand corrected. My only point is the BS that call centre type matrics start applying. Will the order taker have 235 things they will have to say in the course of taking an order? When things like this are done that means people are recorded/monitered. That means required phrases and upselling. I hate this sort of thing. If that type of stuff does not happen I am all for it.

  62. flugelhorn says:

    what if my local McDonalds is out of something or other? will the people in India know this, via some sort of monitoring system?

    Taco Bells around here seem to be doing something similar. When it’s my turn at the speaker I hear a canned recording (in stereotypical radio announcer voice) that says “WELCOME! To Taco Bell” before a human breaks in. I’m pretty sure the human on the speaker and the human at the window were not the same person last time around.

    @floyderdc: you better believe there’ll be upselling, promotions, etc.

  63. MayorBee says:

    @floyderdc: I think you’re right about the call center metrics. It’s my goal to provide you with excellent insight with this post. Have I provided you with an excellent level of service today?

  64. smd31 says:

    I would like to have a touch screen system that you can order your food with; that goes for any and all restaurants. As long as it is done right (has options for people like me, “only ketchup on the burger”, etc…) it should be good.

    I also don’t really understand (kinda do) why at sit down restaurants that you have 1 waiter/waitress….why not have the touch screen system with a staff of waiters and whoever is available, help the customer…

  65. womynist says:

    I live in NH and some of our Wendy’s restaurants are using these. I’ve generally had a good experience with them, and the only way you can tell you’re not talking to the person at the drive-thru window is that our order takers have a distinctly Southern accent. Not common up here in New England.

  66. peter_in_paris says:

    In France, in addition to regular cashiers at McDonald’s, there are also touch screens you can use to order and pay for your food. There is a separate line to pick up the food you’ve ordered and most of the time it is much, much faster than waiting in line to pay and be served.

  67. jimconsumer says:

    This is really, really nice. Unfortunately my local McDonalds restaurants stopped using it. No idea why.

    Here’s why I liked it: Orders were fast, easy and accurate. The people in the “call center” take orders all day and they always did a perfect job of it. No asking me to repeat myself, no screwing up when keying the order in (the screens at the drive-thru show what they’re doing in real time). Just perfect. I said what I wanted, it came up on the screen nearly as fast as I said it, and “Your total is $x.” Perfect.

    Since they got rid of it, now it’s right back to the way things used to be: Keying orders in wrong. Asking me to repeat myself. Long delays while they try to figure out the computer system. Watching the screen display things I didn’t order, then having to correct them. Just general crap service from poorly trained local employees.

  68. trujunglist says:

    They should just start buying large touchscreens and eliminate drones and ordering mistakes by forcing people to do it themselves. I just used one a few weeks ago inside a Jack in the Box and it worked just fine. The only errors that could occur then are limited to prep and packing, which could then assign blame easier and retrain those that can’t properly place a burger in a bag.

  69. RandomHookup says:

    One of the reasons that this works well for Hawaii is that the cost of employees on an island is pretty high. Hawaii has a fairly low unemployment rate and no easy way to import employees (even from one island to another). Paying $7 an hour in Texas is better than paying $12 in Hawaii — especially if it’s easy to find and keep the people in Texas.

    The biggest issue has to be the accents on both ends of the phone.

  70. DH405 says:

    @cmdrsass:

    “boo-hoo sniffle sniffle”

    Was that really necessary?

  71. phelander says:

    At the McDonald’s where I live, the people you talk to have no brains at all…what’s the difference in that or ordering from someone who isn’t there??

  72. phelander says:

    I’m waiting for the day a McDonald’s RObot wakes me up to force feed an egg mcmuffin down my throat, waits around a few hours and massages my stomach o make me digest it and wipes my ass while getting ready to feed me a quarter pounder for lunch, rinse, repeat.

  73. pat_trick says:

    I live in Hawaii where they’ve been using this system, and it sucks. I’ve yet to have a successful order; they always mess it up somehow.

  74. trustsatan says:

    this “bright idea” is transparently about the cost of hiring and retaining workers. I can’t get past the fact that these contracted CSR firms are located in low-wage states like North Dakota & Texas, and that this system will only be implemented in areas where entry-level labor is relatively costly (Hawaii, New England, etc.)

  75. SisterHavana says:

    @NameGoesHere: The Portillo’s in my town (I am in the Chicago area) does the same thing. During busy times there will be one or two employees going up to cars taking orders – if it is super busy there will also be another employee out there taking money, and one will go to the window and bring your food out to you if your order is done before the person’s who is actually at the window!

    The White Castle in my town uses an outsourced drive-through system. I’ve never had a problem getting my order correct, but I am not super fond of the idea. And I have a feeling it is only a matter of time until these jobs go offshore too.

  76. rockasocky says:

    @pat_trick: It does suck. But count me as one of the ones who didn’t know it was in place, I just thought McD’s was being incompetent like usual.

    This also explains why the order-takers always have funny accents…I thought we were just hiring more out-of-state people than normal.

  77. huginn says:

    Philly and pitt gas stores Wawa and Sheetz both have been using this for years. It’s the best thing since sliced bread. I have friends come in state and those them these things and they wonder at these things like they were from the future.

    Most of all? i honestly don’t think I’ve had a major screw up ever with one of these machines.

    Faster, more accurate and focuses more on what’s important, getting the food out fast.

    McD’s lets see it nation wide in 2 years!

  78. dafountain says:

    I’m just waiting for an accountant at McD’s to figure out that they can save a lot more money by having the order taking out sourced to India. And isn’t that ironic, since the majority of Indians don’t even eat beef.

  79. bvita says:

    @GMFish:
    In many urban areas finding someone who will work in a fast food restaurant and has a decent grasp of the English language is difficult. Sometimes even the cultural issues are a challenge.

    I was in a McD in Southington CT a year ago. It was bad enough that the staff members each only knew a handful of English phrases and could only nod and smile when I asked questions. The real kick was when I went to the mens’ room. While I was standing at a urinal (doing what one does at a urinal), a non-english speaking female staffer came into the bathroom and started cleaning the bathroom, including the urinal next to the one that I was using. When I complained to the (barely english speaking) manager on duty, she saw nothing wrong with the situation.

    Outraged, I called McD corporate who apologized and referred the matter to the franchise owner. They called and agreed that it shouldn’t have happened. They promised to send me a gift cart, which, of course, never arrived.

    I suppose that I should have be grateful that at least they were trying to keep the can clean.

    I guess then, that anything that increases the likelihood that your order might be correct has to be an improvement. At least they’re outsourcing to the US and not India as the airlines do.

  80. disavow says:

    Apparently this is working well, cuz I live in Missouri but hadn’t really noticed a difference.

    Hardee’s and Taco Hut should take a lesson. Often they have one person (recording?) say the greeting spiel, then another actually take the order. Pretty obnoxious having to repeat stuff all the time.

  81. Trojan69 says:

    The McDonald in the Wal*Mart in the Georgia town I used to live in had the option of using a touch screen kiosk or going to the counter with a human order taker.

    The kiosk was not easy to navigate and frequently lost the order in progress and one needed to start all over again.

    It’s a great theory, but a customer touch screen ordering system is problematic.

    As a previous poster mentioned, In & Out routinely sends humans out with a wi-fi ordering computer. It works fabulously well. The darn places are too friggin popular, though. There is nearly always an unavoidable wait.