Meoli Companies trying McDonald’s newest ideas

Want to skip the line at McDonald’s and order your fries by phone? Want that Big Mac delivered by Uber Eats? Ever wish your local McDonald’s had table service?

Mike Meoli

You may not have a long wait for all of the above.

The Meoli Companies, owners of 14 McDonald’s, including nine in Delaware, is taking advantage of low interest rates to reinvest in their restaurants.

“Where interest rates are right now, and with the things that are being offered, I’m the first one to put my hand up and say, ‘Let’s go,’” said Mike Meoli, the company president. “Typically, I like to be on the front wave with tech.”

Fellow McDonald’s owner Joel Dukart said Meoli has been on the forefront of putting new tech into local McDonald’s. Dukart said the high cost of kiosks is a barrier for many owners, and several, like he and his brother Michael, who is on McDonald’s tech team, are, instead, waiting for McDonald’s to get mobile ordering worked out so customers can order on their phones and owners can save the cost of kiosks.

But Meoli has installed $13,000 bilingual ordering kiosk units at several of his stores. It’s too early to tell if they boosted the bottom line, he said, because it takes time for customers to get comfortable with self-ordering. It makes sense that it would add sales in Sussex County, where 9 percent of residents are Hispanic and many are non-English speakers.

In addition, Meoli said kiosk orders are generally more accurate because customers already know exactly what they want.

Besides remodeling everything from the restrooms to the Playplace at its Bridgeville store, Meoli Companies is expanding its Harrington store, which will soon offer table service in addition to self-service kiosks.
Several Meoli restaurants in Maryland already offer table service, and it’s on the to-do list for the Rehoboth and Bridgeville stores as well as Harrington later this year.

With upwards of 70 percent of the business now coming through the drive-throughs, Meoli, like other McDonald’s owners, is deliberately changing things up to make the restaurants more inviting with free Wi-Fi, better lighting, comfortable seats, big-screen televisions and murals and section breaks.

Next up: Mobile ordering. Competing chains like Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks and Panera are ahead in that realm, but local McDonald owners are eagerly waiting for the parent company to roll out its mobile ordering system that will use geo-fencing to determine when a customer drives onto the lot and send an order to the kitchen to get cooking.

“Quite frankly, McDonald’s has been a little late to the game compared to our competition,” Meoli said. “But in the next 10 to 16 months, it’s really going to be great for our business.”

Meoli said he’ll be in line to offer deliveries through UberEats as soon as McDonald’s finishes testing the concept. He said the biggest obstacle will be finding UberEats services in Sussex County.

“My sales have been strong, and I think a lot of it has to do with my level of reinvestment,” he said.
Meoli said part of that investment is giving his crew the resources they need to do a better job. He takes advantage of McDonald’s Archway For Opportunity program, which allows crew members to earn actual high school diplomas, not GEDs.

Meoli Companies also offers English-as-a-second-language courses through a McDonald’s program. Most of it is McDonald-speak to help employees communicate with customers and other crew members, Meoli said. The company also offers employees a McDonald’s-Colorado State slate of online college courses and a scholarship program.

Meoli said he sees all the changes as improving the McDonald’s brand locally.

“When you walk into our restaurants, you are walking into our brand,” he said. “We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can be relevant with menu innovation if we’re trying to serve it in irrelevant, older buildings that don’t have what our customers expect from us.”

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