Yes, McDonald's Is Testing Mobile Payment In France. PayPal? Not So Much

That McDonald's/PayPal trial in France you've heard so much about for the past week? Turns out it's not actually a PayPal trial at all. McDonald's France, which has been experimenting with online ordering since 2010, launched a new version last February that does include the ability to pay online using PayPal—or any payment card—before picking up the order in a special line in-store. But a big new PayPal mobile payment app? That doesn't exist.

Even the possibility that the French order-online-pick-up-in-store system is being tested for eventual U.S. launch looks like wishful thinking, considering how differently McDonald's uses customer-facing technology in France.

Let's be clear: McDonald's did display some PayPal technologies at its franchisee conference this spring, and the chain said franchisees can expect some of it to be available in about two years. But that display was just a variation on what PayPal has been showing big retailers since last fall.

What seems to have happened is that on August 17, a Reuters reporter mixed that fact with the six-month-old news of McDonald's 30-location site-to-store trial in France, known as "GoMcDo." The result has been every conceivable variation on what McDonald's and PayPal might be doing in Paris right now—and the confusion hasn't been helped by the fact that every vendor participating in the trial (along with PayPal there's POS maker Verifone, Web-ordering app vendor Airtag and ad agency DDB) is being cagey in its responses to questions about whether and when it could be rolled out across France or imported to the U.S.

We're not sure why. The Web version of the ordering system has been online for months at The customer chooses a restaurant, selects eat-in or carry-out, then works his way through the menu and pays online, which sends a QR code to his phone. Once inside the store, he holds the phone up to a kiosk and then picks up his order at the special line. There's also an ad-agency video illustrating the smartphone process online (warning: some potentially offensive images zip by very quickly).

Could this work in U.S. McDonald's stores? Probably, but both the technology and the operations style in the French locations suggest it might be a bigger deal in France than in the U.S. Since 1995, McDonald's France has actually encouraged customers to linger in the store instead of rushing them through, using at-table ordering kiosks and table service in some stores and converting to a café-style service between the big meal rushes.

Not surprisingly, GoMcDo isn't designed to get customers in and out faster—just to shorten lines. The current version of the app doesn't even enable the customer to specify a pick-up time.

The most likely U.S. version, on the other hand, would need to be optimized for drive-through, so customers could order, pay and pick a time online, then spend all of about 30 seconds on the store's property—just enough to flash the QR code, load up the food and leave. How much that would actually speed things up in a typical McDonald's drive-through (unless everyone used it) is questionable.

It might be nice to see McDonald's catch up to Domino's and Pizza Hut in site-to-store ordering. But considering the challenges of getting its franchisees onboard with a new payment kiosk and a special line, it's not likely to happen any time soon. If PayPal wants a big deal with McDonald's, it's probably going to come from a different direction than France.