See updates to this post, below, edited on December 23, 2014.
In a recent Reuters story, the disappointing results of McDonald’s third quarter was reported. McDonald’s quarterly profits plunged 30 percent, due to problems all over the world, including recent scandals in China. The story includes comments from CEO Don Thompson concerning the company’s plans to improve its image. A couple of ideas for improvement were mentioned.
Mobile app services for ordering and paying is on the list, and the “McD app” has already been rolled out. As well, being that McDonald’s menu boards are now ridiculously complicated, the company plans to boldly go where no restaurant has gone before, and simplify its menu. What struck me the most, however, was a claim that McDonald’s would offer custom burger options.
Have you ever ordered a burger “the way you want it” at McDonald’s? What happened? Did the whole outfit grind to a screeching halt? Did the employees scramble around trying to figure out how in the world to produce a burger without mustard on it? A custom anything, at McDonald’s, seems akin to saying, “I’ll have a cheeseburger and fries, and…can I get eternal life with that?” It reminds me of the old yarn about the cafe in Columbia (or Mexico, etc.) that read “Bread with butter: 100 pesos. Bread with margarine: 80 pesos. Bread without butter: 60 pesos. Bread without margarine: 40 pesos.”
So, how does McDonald’s plan to achieve this amazing feat of customization? Well, according to the CEO, there are “new technologies” available which will allow them to put different things on a burger! That’s right! We have now reached such a pinnacle of human achievement, that we have created a technological marvel which will allow McDonald’s to hold the onions on your burger.1
Somehow, Burger King, Wendy’s, and countless other fast-food chains have been hoarding this technology and were able to keep it out of the greedy mitts of the fast-food juggernaut. That, in itself, is quite a feat and they deserve some props for keeping the technology secret all this time. I mean, dang! You’d have thought there would have been a leak, after all these years.
Of course, the technology is in the point of sales systems, but, again, this is not exactly a monumental new development. And regardless, a few new buttons on a machine is not going to make me wait 30 minutes to get a burger at a place I go to save time. It is possible to get quick, fresh, and custom, but McDonald’s has only ever had quick. How do they bridge the gap between quick and custom? Personally, I won’t hold my breath. Perhaps if they really did pare down the menu. The original McDonald’s menu from the 1950’s Ray Kroc days featured nine items: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, malt shakes, french fries, orangeade, root beer, Coke, milk, and coffee. There were more beverages than food!
I had recently reported on McDonald’s of Canada and Australia’s new(ish) question and answer sites, aimed at setting the record straight on some of the (quite ridiculous) claims about McDonald’s food. I had wondered that there is nothing similar in America, but apparently there is now. The site answers questions about pink slime, and the still trending question of why McDonald’s burgers never rot.
Despite plans to recover, McDonald’s acknowledges that it doesn’t expect a quick turnaround. Gordon Haskett analyst Don Bilson was quoted as saying “Given the company’s recent results, we have no doubt there is plenty of frustration here, which makes McDonald’s fertile ground for activism.” In other news, Captain Obvious, in a recent press conference, claimed that…
Update: McDonald’s Rolling Out “Create Your Taste” Options
Since this post was written, you may have already noticed some simplification to the McDonald’s menu, at least in some stores where the new simplified menu is being tested. Of course, you may also have noticed that simple is not so simple and ordering may be even more confusing.
Changes to Menu
However, the kinds of changes planned are things like reducing the number of extra value meals from 16 to 11 and cutting down on the variations of popular sandwiches. For example, offering one Quarter Pounder with Cheese instead of four; one premium chicken sandwich, and one snack wrap. As well, premium sandwiches like the Bacon Clubhouse burger could be axed.
Changing the Ingredients
McDonald’s is also looking into changing their ingredients. The possibilities include using fewer ingredients, and doing away with unnecessary preservatives by changing their holding procedures. Another part of this is an effort on the part of the company to answer consumer questions about their food, many of which concern ingredients. I have already reported on McDonald’s Question and Answer sites in the U.S. and Canada.
Choose Your Bun, Cheese, and Toppings in the Create Your Taste Options
The biggest change, possibly, is the new “Create Your Taste” options, which will be in 2000 of McDonald’s 14,000 locations next year. Reports indicate that this is a response to the popularity of fast-casual restaurant chains like Chipotle, where you move down a line picking what ingredients you want. Frankly, this makes absolutely no sense as a comparison, since ordering a burger how you want it is not exactly a new idea that needs to compete in a brand new category. Fast food burger chains like Burger King have been doing it for years and years, not to mention many others. Regardless of how it is implemented, the company notes that it will not be easy for McDonald’s and that some “complicated” orders may take up to 7 minutes, as opposed to just a couple minutes. The Create Your Taste program, however, is not just an experiment, it is being implemented and will move forward.
- Technically, this has always been possible at McDonald’s, just not practical, unless you want to wait 20 minutes while the entire operation comes to a screaming halt.