McDonald's boss insists hi-tech move won't hit jobs
Fast food giant McDonald's has said it will not cut staff numbers as it rolls out new technology in outlets across Northern Ireland.
The burger chain is spending millions adding touch screen ordering systems as part of a major revamp across its outlets.
The first Northern Ireland store in Bangor - which has undergone the revamp at a cost of almost £500,000 - now employs 18 additional staff.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, McDonald's UK senior vice president Richard Forte, who oversees around 1,250 outlets across the UK, said the move was the "biggest, most exciting investment" in the company's history here.
"It's a transformation we have been working on with our franchisees," he said.
McDonald's has operated in Northern Ireland for 23 years. There are now 27 stores in Northern Ireland, with plans for another four in the near future.
Des Lamph, who runs nine McDonald's franchises in Northern Ireland and employs 800 staff, said the business here had grown "considerably" year-on-year.
The new store model, which will be rolled out across all of its Northern Ireland branches in the next three years, includes touch screen kiosks, where customers can order food and pay without dealing with staff.
The kitchen is also significantly changed, to allow a cleaner and smoother production of food.
But despite taking much of the labour away from the ordering process, Mr Forte said staff levels would not be cut.
"Not at all. This is an investment in the customer experience. The time we save from when an employee would be taking your order, that's redeployed elsewhere."
And the health aspect of McDonald's food - something which has come under the spotlight thanks to documentaries such as the 2004 film Super Size Me - is still a day-to-day concern, he said:
"What customers have been asking for from us is choice, and having greater variety," he added.
"It's quite a complex area. Where we are showing responsibility is giving our customers more choice, and working very hard on the reformulation of our products.
"We will continue to make those reformulations to meet our customers' changing needs.
"An average customer will come to McDonald's two to three times a month. So, to have a treat it is perfectly suitable as part of a rounded, balanced diet."
But Mr Forte also said the business's McCafe brand, which has been rolled out across Europe, will not be coming to the UK any time soon.
He said the business in Northern Ireland was performing slightly ahead of its average across the UK.
Asked whether in a decade's time McDonald's could end up cutting some of its front line workforce amid an increase in technology, he said: "The outlook is to employ more people. I think where we will remain relevant for our customers, is investing in technology."
On the issue of staff pay, Northern Ireland franchisee Des Lamph said: "I think there is a misconception that McDonald's don't pay well. You would find, even around this restaurant, we pay well above the minimum wage."
Mr Lamph said he wasn't concerned about the introduction of the new National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour, which comes into effect in April.
"No. Everyone I employ - those over 21 - are on wages well above that level," he added.