McDonald’s CEO: ‘We want to be the disrupter’ when tech threatens the restaurant industry

McDonald's quarter pounder
McDonald’s CEO is preparing the fast-food chain for disruption. Facebook/McDonald’s

The restaurant industry is ripe for radical disruption — and McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook says the fast-food company is ready to lead the way.

Easterbrook says he has “every expectation” that the restaurant industry is about to undergo some major, tech-influenced changes. But unlike retailers such as Sears and Macy’s that have struggled to compete with the rise of ecommerce, he doesn’t want McDonald’s to be torn apart by a quickly-shifting industry.

“Do we want to wait and be disrupted, or do we want to be the disrupter?” Easterbrook told Business Insider.

For Easterbrook, the answer is clear. Since he took the position of McDonald’s CEO in 2015, the fast-food giant has gone on the offensive. McDonald’s has doubled down on tech initiatives, adding kiosks to restaurants and rolling out mobile order and pay, which will be available at all 14,000 US locations by the end of 2017.

The company’s most recent plunge into tech is delivery. While the fast-food chain only started offering delivery in the US through an UberEats partnership in January, the service is now available at more than 25% of US locations.

McDonald's Steve Easterbrook
McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook. Getty

Delivery provides a way to both attract new customers to McDonald’s and bring back people who may have ditched the chain. It’s also part of Easterbrook’s plan to ensure McDonald’s is winning over customers seeking convenience in an increasingly fast-paced world.

“People are so used to living their lives with one click of a button,” Easterbrook said. If McDonald’s wants to remain competitive, it needs to be just as fast in adapting.

On average, the company says McDonald’s deliveries arrive in less than 30 minutes, as the sheer number of McDonald’s locations ensures that the drive is rarely a long one for Uber drivers. As companies like Amazon look to brick-and-mortar locations to speed up delivery time, the enormous size of McDonald’s gives it a leg up on both ecommerce-centric competition and other chains investing in delivery.

Easterbrook’s determination to disrupt instead of being disrupted seems to be paying off. On Tuesday, McDonald’s reported that sales at US stores open for at least one year rose 3.9%, beating analyst expectations.

“Whenever I have the opportunity to meet fellow CEOs at occasional events … I think that the one common observation all of us would make is that today is about the slowest the world’s ever going to be moving at,” Easterbrook said in a call with investors on Tuesday. “It’s only going to move quicker tomorrow. So saddle up and enjoy it, because it’s a frantic pace.”