McDonald‘s Welcomes Apple Pay: A Fast Food Giant‘s Embrace of Faster Payments

As the world‘s leading fast food chain, McDonald‘s has long prided itself on speed, convenience and staying ahead of the curve. So it‘s no surprise that the Golden Arches was one of the first major quick-service restaurants to embrace Apple Pay when the mobile wallet launched in 2014.

Today, Apple Pay is accepted at over 90% of McDonald‘s nearly 40,000 locations worldwide according to the company‘s latest annual report. Hungry customers can tap to pay with their iPhone or Apple Watch whether ordering at the counter, drive-thru, self-service kiosk or in the McDonald‘s mobile app.

But just how popular is Apple Pay among Big Mac buyers? And what has the digital payment method meant for McDonald‘s bottom line and broader tech transformation? As a retail and consumer analyst specializing in mobile commerce trends, I‘ll share an inside look at the Apple Pay experience at McDonald‘s and what it says about the future of fast food.

Serving Up the Stats on Apple Pay at McDonald‘s

Make no mistake, Apple Pay is a hit at McDonald‘s. While the company doesn‘t disclose granular data on transactions by payment method, it‘s clear that the mobile wallet has quickly gained a loyal following among McDonald‘s customers.

Consider this: In 2019, Apple Pay accounted for a whopping 90% of all mobile wallet transactions at McDonald‘s US locations, according to research from industry publication That‘s up from 50% just one month after Apple Pay launched at the chain in 2015.

Globally, the trend is similar. A 2021 report from fintech analysts at Fiserv found that over 70% of all mobile wallet payments at quick-service restaurants worldwide were made with Apple Pay, with Google Pay and Samsung Pay accounting for most of the remainder. And McDonald‘s is leading the charge, with Apple Pay transactions growing nearly 80% year-over-year at the chain‘s international locations.

So why are so many McD‘s customers reaching for their iPhones at the register? Industry watchers say it comes down to a few key factors:

1. Speed

"In the world of fast food, every second counts," said retail technology analyst Michael Baker of D.A. Davidson Companies. "Mobile wallets like Apple Pay are incredibly fast and efficient, shaving valuable time off the ordering and payment process."

Indeed, a recent study from the National Retail Federation found that contactless payments like Apple Pay are up to 10 times faster than traditional payment methods like cash and cards. For a high-volume business like McDonald‘s, those seconds add up to serious time savings.

2. Convenience

"Most people are never without their phone, so there‘s immense convenience in being able to pay with the device that‘s already in your hand," noted Greg Buzek, founder and president of retail consulting firm IHL Services. "McDonald‘s has done an excellent job capitalizing on that by promoting Apple Pay heavily in-store, in the drive-thru and on the app."

3. Security

"Contactless mobile payments offer significant security advantages over traditional swipe or dip methods," said Joanna Stavins, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston who studies payment trends.

She points to the fact that Apple Pay transactions are tokenized and authenticated with biometrics like Face ID or Touch ID. "The actual card numbers are never shared with the merchant or stored on the device with Apple Pay, which greatly reduces risk in the event of a data breach," Stavins explained.

The Business Benefits of Accepting Apple Pay

The growing popularity of Apple Pay at McDonald‘s is certainly good news for iPhone-toting customers. But what‘s in it for the fast food giant‘s bottom line? As it turns out, quite a bit.

McDonald‘s restaurants that accept Apple Pay and other mobile wallets see an average 20% higher spend per transaction compared to non-mobile payment methods, according to a study by Forrester Research. The study also found that mobile wallet users tend to be more frequent customers, with 74% visiting stores at least once per week versus 50% of non-users.

For McDonald‘s, those higher transaction values and repeat visits add up. The company estimates that its digital investments, including Apple Pay integration, have added about 1-2% to its annual systemwide sales growth in recent years. In 2021, that translated to a $1.5 billion sales lift for the $112 billion business.

But the benefits of Apple Pay go beyond direct sales impact. Operational efficiencies are a major factor, notes McDonald‘s CTO Daniel Henry. "The seconds we save on each Apple Pay transaction help speed up our drive-thru lanes and reduce overall wait times, which is a huge priority," he said in a company blog post. Henry estimates that the company‘s digital initiatives have improved service times by an average of 20 seconds per customer.

Apple Pay also represents valuable marketing opportunities for McDonald‘s. The company frequently partners with Apple on promotions, like offering free fries to Apple Pay users or bonus rewards points for mobile wallet transactions. In 2022, a record 30% of all new McDonald‘s app downloads came from Apple Pay promotions according to Mobile Marketer.

Speed Convenience Security
Apple Pay Up to 10x faster than cash/cards No wallet or card needed, works on phone and watch Tokenized, biometrically authenticated, card numbers not shared
Cash Requires counting change, manual processing Requires carrying bills and coins Can be lost or stolen, no added security
Physical Card Requires insertion and PIN/signature, manual processing Requires carrying card Card numbers can be stolen, skimmed in breaches

What‘s Next for McDonald‘s and Mobile Payments?

Apple Pay is just one piece of McDonald‘s sweeping digital transformation in recent years. The burger giant has invested heavily in mobile ordering and payments, self-service kiosks, personalized menus, voice technology and more to speed up service and provide a more modern experience.

McDonald‘s CEO Chris Kempczinski says digital sales now exceed $10 billion annually and are growing faster than overall sales. "Our digital engine is firing on all cylinders, and Apple Pay has absolutely been a key accelerant," he noted on a recent earnings call.

Looking ahead, many industry experts expect Apple Pay and other mobile wallets to keep gaining steam at McDonald‘s and across the quick-service sector. A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association found that over 70% of fast food operators plan to invest more in mobile payment technology in the coming year, citing benefits like higher sales, faster service and enhanced hygiene.

As the largest fast food brand, McDonald‘s is helping lead that charge. The chain has begun testing even more seamless payment experiences, like using geolocation to detect when a mobile customer arrives and automatically fire their order. Its R&D teams are also exploring technologies like facial recognition kiosks and AI-powered suggestions to further speed ordering and personalize service.

But even as newer digital payment options emerge, Apple Pay is poised to keep a leading role in McDonald‘s innovation plans. The two global brands have forged a close partnership, with McDonald‘s frequently a launch partner for new Apple Pay features like order ahead and loyalty rewards integration.

"Ultimately, our goal is to make the McDonald‘s experience as easy and frictionless as possible," said Lucy Brady, the company‘s Chief Digital Customer Engagement Officer, in a recent interview with Nation‘s Restaurant News. "Apple Pay has been a huge win on that front, and we‘re excited to keep building on that foundation."

That‘s good news for the millions of customers who rely on Apple Pay for their Big Mac fix – and for the future of fast, secure and convenient payments across the quick-service industry. With the Golden Arches leading the way, expect mobile wallets to become an even more central part of the fast food experience in the years ahead.