Rocky Top McDonald’s goes high tech

  • Jennifer Smith, right, and her daughter, Bailey, liked the new customer kiosk when they placed their orders on Monday. - Crystal Huskey

  • From left: Henry Baggett, Zach Shetterly, John Faris, Tim Isbell, Mike Swisher, Maria Tucker, Mitch Wade, Sondra Faris, Kari Hancock, Shane Vowell, Greg Woods and Bear Stephens. - Crystal Huskey

The Rocky Top McDonald’s, owned by John and Sondra Faris, received a major remodel a few weeks ago. The restaurant now has self-service kiosks, new decor and even table service.

The high-tech upgrade is part of the plan to upgrade all existing McDonalds, but for the Farises, starting with the Rocky Top location was more than just a business decision.

John and Sondra each worked at the fast food giant and met there as well. After they got married, they opened their first restaurant in 1985 at the age of 25.

That was the Rocky Top McDonald’s.

They now own and operate 60 locations in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia, receiving awards over the years that include the Ronald McDonald award and the Golden Arch award.

“We believe in this community, and our office is in Clinton,” John Faris said. “We’ve always loved it there and have no plans of moving. Rocky Top is great. I know it’s small, but there are some great people there. And now they have the newest looking McDonald’s in the area.”

He noted that the Clinton/Norris exit is booming, and said he was glad they could do something new and exciting in Rocky Top.

“We want Rocky Top to be as modern and new as everywhere else,” he said.

He plans to do a kitchen remodel over the summer.

“We’re constantly doing something,” he said.

In 1985, Rocky Top didn’t have a full-time police department. He said that the mayor told him back then that because of the taxes McDonald’s brought in, the city was able to purchase a second police car.

“And once we came in, other businesses followed,” Faris said. “Cracker Barrel and now Weigels. That brings more money into the community.”

During the grand reopening two weeks ago, the Farises presented the Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley with a check for $1,000. The executive director of that club, Mike Swisher, once worked for the Farises at the Rocky Top McDonald’s.

“He worked there the first year we were there,” Faris recalled. “Mike was a good worker. He showed up on time and his family had a good work ethic. He was a great employee. The values his mom and dad instilled in him is why he is the way he is today. That’s the kind of kid you want to have, and to raise that way.”

The new look

Aside from the inside looking sleek and modern, the new digital kiosks give customers another way to order. And while it may seem like that would cut down on the number of employees needed, it’s actually the opposite, according to Faris. They need a larger staff to bring food to the tables.

“That’s part of the new image of McDonald’s,” he explained. “You order at the kiosk and we bring the food to you.”

Customers can even order food from an app on their phones and have it hot and ready as soon as you pull up or walk in.

The order isn’t placed until you get within a certain distance of the restaurant, so the food is always hot when you receive it.

The remodel is part of corporate McDonald’s $6 billion investment to modernize most of its locations by 2022. But corporate doesn’t pay for the individual remodels — franchisees are only reimbursed 55-percent if they upgrade by 2020. That percentage drops to 40 if they get it done by 2022. The initiative is called the “Experience of the Future,” and it's simply meant to modernize all the restaurants.

The modernization is meant to improve the customer experience.

Staff at the restaurant were visibly excited about the changes as well. One employee showed off the trackers that customers receive once they’ve placed their order. Employees can see where customers are sitting through an app on an iPad, so the food doesn’t accidentally get served to another customer.

Customer Jennifer Smith and her daughter, Bailey, ordered on the kiosk for the first time during a recent visit.

“I like it a whole lot better,” said Jennifer as she placed her order.

If a customer has trouble with the kiosk, an employee is in the dining area ready to help.

“It’s better for the customers,” said Faris. “We make sure everything is OK and that you have what you need.”