Monday 14 October 2019

Ireland's oldest McDonald's is given a revamp as the digital trend continues


Moving with the times: Amir Afsar, franchisee owner of McDonald’s on Grafton Street, Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Moving with the times: Amir Afsar, franchisee owner of McDonald’s on Grafton Street, Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

Gavin McLouglin

Ireland's oldest McDonald's has just got a very modern revamp.

Owner Amir Afsar has had 16 digital ordering screens installed on the restaurant floor in Grafton Street, Dublin, where customers can punch in their order and have it delivered to their table.

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You can still order your food the traditional way if you want, but the space available to do so is reduced.

The idea that automation might be coming for our jobs is well ventilated at this stage, but Mr Afsar says the screens have actually resulted in staff levels going up across his network.

One of 22 McDonald's franchisees in Ireland, he owns 11 restaurants spanning Dublin city centre, south Dublin, and Arklow in Co Wicklow, and has already introduced the screens (or kiosks as McDonald's calls them) elsewhere.

"With the introduction of kiosks my average restaurant's staff numbers have gone up by 20pc... I may need less people serving the customers, but now I have table service so I may need more people delivering food to our customers."

More people may also be needed in the kitchens, as the new format allows more people to place orders at the one time.

Home delivery has started as well - in partnership with the Uber Eats food delivery service.

That's been exceptionally successful at attracting people who aren't coming to restaurants - 'incrementality' to use the business speak.

"Our incrementality is exceptionally high. A lot of the customers we're getting for delivery are not customers that were visiting ... as we expand the number of restaurants doing it that incrementality will drop but it's exceptionally high," Mr Afsar said.

The 55-year-old is something of a McDonald's lifer. At university in the UK, a friend who was working part-time in McDonald's encouraged Mr Afsar to do likewise.

"I wasn't the most outspoken person in the world but I think one of the things McDonald's does is it forces you to come out of your shell. Because you're suddenly forced to go on the till, and talk to customers you have never met ... it really helps boost your self-confidence."

He wanted to be a doctor but couldn't afford the fees, and so he decided to start working full-time at McDonald's because he was enjoying what he was doing so much.

After moving quickly through the ranks, taking on various managerial roles, he came to Ireland 22 years ago on a secondment.

His job was field services manager for the island - essentially helping franchisees open new restaurants here.

Taking on a franchise for himself was a natural progression, and he started out with the restaurant at the Nutgrove Shopping Centre in Rathfarnham, south Dublin, the first restaurant in Europe to have a drive-thru. More than 1,000 people are employed across his restaurants, an indication of the scale McDonald's franchises can achieve. Though recruiting labour is challenging with the economy close to full employment, Mr Afsar has been helped by a societal attitude change towards working at McDonald's.

"The misconception that people have about McDonald's - we don't have that any more. A lot of our employees introduce their friends.

"It can turn into a career with us which has its own rewards. But there's a lot of transferable skills that you kind of learn in McDonald's... initiative, team building, decision making, these are the things to be honest that a lot of employees are learning, without even realising that they're being taught those things.

"I have a lot of managers who are 18 or 19 years old, who have responsibility sometimes on a shift for 30 or 40 people... and everybody goes through that development."

Any staff member who wants to emulate Mr Afsar and own their own franchise will face a challenging task, however. McDonald's, he says, is "very selective" in whom it awards franchises too.

Prospective franchisees have to apply and make it past an interview process.

Then they have to spend 12 days working in a restaurant for a preliminary evaluation.

If they make it past that phase, they have to do a further nine months of unpaid restaurant work, taking on a wide variety of roles. It is only on passing this stage that someone gets the chance to own their own restaurant.

Taking on that challenge looks more difficult now with Brexit looming.

Mr Afsar's business sources much of its inputs here - beef, cheese, milk - but the all-important fries come from McCain in the UK.

That means Brexit could potentially disrupt their supply.

Mr Afsar says, however, that contingency plans are being put in place. The plans are being worked on by McDonald's itself, which won't reveal the details, saying these are commercially sensitive.

McDonald's UK and Ireland told the Irish Independent it has "developed a robust contingency plan, taking into account all scenarios to look to ensure that there is minimal disruption to our supply chain following Brexit".

"We continue to work closely with our supply chain partners to prepare accordingly," the company said. Mr Afsar said he is "100pc confident" that fries will stay on the menu.

It's probably critical to his business they do so.

Irish Independent

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