Think of it as a drive-through for people on foot.
A newly renovated McDonald's in Cambridge's Central Square is getting ready to introduce a walk-up window where pedestrians can order and pick up food without going inside the restaurant. The walk-up window is a familiar McDonald's concept in some other cites, including New York and Chicago, but it's new to Massachusetts.
The window won't just let lazy Cambridge customers skip the extra 25 feet to the interior counter. McDonald's Corp. hopes to keep it open after the lobby closes at 11 p.m., so customers can get their fix of Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets 24 hours a day.
The owners of the Central Square McDonald's held a grand reopening of the restaurant on Wednesday but were still awaiting a city permit for the walk-up, which they hope will arrive soon.
The company said the window will appeal to "younger millennials who are enjoying the nightlife in Cambridge," as well as to people who work nights.
"It allows them to have a convenient place to stop when the bar closes," said Nicole DiNoia, a McDonald's spokeswoman.
The McDonald's at 463 Massachusetts Ave. is the second in New England to offer a walk-up window. The first opened in Burlington, Vt., another college town, in 1997.
DiNoia said there are now more than 15 across the Northeast, all of them in urban areas at restaurants that generate a lot of foot traffic and don't have drive-throughs.
Darren Tristano, executive vice president at the food industry research firm Technomic Inc., said that walk-ups are a great city alternative to drive-throughs, which account for more than 70 percent of sales in restaurants that have such windows.
"It allows them to create security for the store by closing the lobby and still keep the revenue flowing," Tristano said.
And it doesn't require the extra space needed for a drive-through, a major consideration in densely populated areas where real estate is precious, said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst at NPD Group.
Analysts say walk-up windows are a good way to increase business in an industry where overall revenues have been flat.
"The fast-food industry is barely holding steady," Riggs said. "We're all looking for new avenues and channels to drive our business, and this is just another way. You're making it as convenient as possible for the customer to come to you."
Farhana Khan, a 24-year-old Harvard Extension School student, said she likes the idea of ordering food from the sidewalk.
"I would definitely use it if I was on my way to class in a rush," Khan said as she munched on Chicken McNuggets at the Central Square McDonald's earlier this week.
Others weren't convinced.
"Look outside," said D.J. Pearcy, 17, as Tuesday's snowstorm began to rev up. "I don't want to be sitting out there waiting for my food."
Carol Chin, who owns the Cambridge restaurant and nine other McDonald's in the Boston area, said that waiting for food at McDonald's will eventually be a thing of the past.
This month, the company introduced McApp, a smartphone app that provides store locations and coupon offers, in New England. Within a year, the company hopes customers will be able to order ahead and pay for food on their phones and then swing by a McDonald's window or counter to pick up their meals.
"It's our McDonald's of the future," Chin said of her Central Square restaurant. "If you want to get a burger at 2 a.m., this is your answer."