We’ve said it many times on the Hungry Dads Podcast – McDonalds is havin’ trouble. Whether its their failure to capitalize on the buzzworthy “McWhopper” idea, their cringe-worthy, “I’m Lovin’ It campaign” or their misguided, “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign, McDonalds has gotta do something if they want to stick around.
Well, one of the Hungry Dads came upon a McDonalds that may be the answer (or maybe not).
And so, we bring you….
Ten Things We’ve Learned about a New Possible McDonalds of the Future
By Hugh Gallon
Realization #1 – McDonalds is trying hard to reinvent itself
So I am on my lunch break and I walk by the nearby McDonalds with no intention of going in. But I see some signage I’ve never seen before – something about making a burger your own way, which I always took to be a Burger King tagline (“Have it Your Way”). I saw what looked like posters with avocado, exotic sauces, and other options that I’d never associated with McD’s. As a journalist, I felt it was important to investigate further – y’know, for the podcast.
I walked in and the entire place had been revamped with a modern black and silver motif. The kitchen was open and visible. There were Coke Freestyle machines and signs for something called, “McD’s Create Your Taste”
This new McDonald’s vision, also showed up in Hong King and defied what you expect when you walk into a McDonalds. Is that a good thing? I’m not so sure.
Realization #2 McDonalds is clearly fighting back against wage protests with technology
Most impressively, were several 8-foot tall, vertical, self-service touchscreen ordering stations. They were located so that customers would go to them first, hardly noticing the (now smaller) standard “full service” ordering cash register. Of course, I had to try one.
It was crowded, but I tried to make my way toward one of those monolithic ordering stations to test it out – y’know, for the podcast – maybe get a soda or something. I waited for quite a while until I realized that nobody seemed to be ordering, the crowd was a gaggle to teens just playing with the buttons. I was just about to bail when Dorian, a very nice McDonald’s staff member plucked me from the crowd and led me to an open touchscreen. I quickly realized she was assigned to assist customers, sort of like that one assistant in the self-checkout area of the grocery store.
Dorian kindly explained over the surrounding adolescent noise that the machine I was using was out of paper for printing tickets, so I would have to remember my order number. Despite feeling already in over my head, I said, “okay” and Dorian left me to touchscreen my way through the menu.
#3 I am a sucker for new fast food experiences – especially if I think I’m a pioneer
I was first confronted with an option to, “Create Your Taste (trademark McDonalds Corporation).” I hadn’t intended on getting a burger, but this seemed like something I needed to know about – at least research – y’know, for the podcast. So I worked my way through two burger patty options, three cheese options, four bun options, and a plethora of novel-for-McDonalds toppings and sauces.
Partway through my touchscreen journey, Dorian came back and asked if I was doing, the “Create Your Taste (trademark McDonalds Corporation)” burger. Even though I was really just playing around, I panicked and said, “yes” figuring I could still back out. She quickly said that she would need to come back and give me something. She made me promise not finalize my order until she got back. Confused and unwittingly committed to this burger, I completed my selections but did not finalize my creation –I wasn’t sure if each addition cost more money, or if it was all inclusive – but I was in this for discovery. What was she going to bring me? This was getting exciting. Dorian returned quickly with a small plastic disk and helped me enter the number printed on the disk – “46.” I added a soda to my order and paid with my credit card.
Dorian handed me the disk and said that I could sit anywhere and they would bring my order to me – but I had to remember the number “1039.” (this was the number that would normally be on a ticket – but my machine was out of paper). The touchscreen accepted my order and said it would take approximately eight minutes. Dorian was suddenly gone.
#4 Table Service at Fast Food place is stressful
In addition to repeating my number over and over in my head, I was obsessed with concern that my food would be forgotten. Or at the very least, I became aware that sitting and waiting for table service makes you think they won’t be as fast. Insult to injury – I didn’t even have my soda yet, which is usually my distraction while I wait for food.
Alone again in the crowd, I found an empty table. I looked around and had a flashback to my Double Down experience – from episode 2. Nobody else was waiting. Others sat down with their trays and bags in hand. They were sipping their sodas. I had a disk. Was I the only idiot who fell for this “Create Your Taste (trademark McDonalds Corporation”) madness? Fortunately I was not. Eventually, I spied one other dude, in a leather jacket, sitting alone. He was foodless with his disk in his hand. I avoided eye contact but kept my eyes on him. He was a fellow, “Create Your Taster.”
Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. At about twelve minutes the dude in the leather jack got his order. It appeared in special wire basket. The system works! My food should be coming soon!
Eventually a server came around with a wire basket of food – she was looking for disk holders. I perked up. She came up to me and asked, “1042?” I responded in disappointment “1039…” and eyed her basket to confirm. It wasn’t my order – it had fries on it and it wasn’t ciabatta bread. The server moved on.
Realization #5 – There is a reason they have to test market new ideas
No new system is perfect and I was happy to be a guiana pig. Almost fifteen minutes passed and I was literally going to walk out. I wasn’t mad. But I was convinced that “Create Your Taste (trademark McDonalds Corporation”) was not worth the trouble, and I had to get back to work. Just then, out of nowhere, that fellow “Create Your Taster” in the leather jacket got up and came up to my table. “Hey man. What was your number?”
“1039,” I responded, quickly realizing where this was headed.
Leather Jacket: “I think I got your order. You get the sweet onion bbq sauce and tortilla strips?”
Leather Jacket: “Me too. But I didn’t get guacamole. That’s how I noticed. Sorry man. I started eating it.” It’s worth noting at this point that out of maybe 200 or so burger combinations, ours matched with enough accuracy to reasonably cause confusion. I guess that’s why those numbers are so darn important.
Realization #6 – This McDonalds’ staff were top notch
Mildly frustrated, but mostly pleased that I had a good story – yknow, for the podcast – I marched up to the counter through the crowd. On my way I found Dorian, explained the situation and noted that I had to get going back to work. Dorian was immediately and noticeably concerned – totally on my side. She said, “Follow me.”
Dorian marched me right up the manager and started pleading my case. The manager first thought that I wouldn’t be charged since my meal never came out. I was about to explain that my order DID come out, but somebody else got it. But before I could open my mouth, there was Leather Jacket, right behind me, as if in a prepared soliloquy, “I ate this dude’s burger. Sorry. I didn’t know. They looked the same – except the guacamole. And I just noticed it was Ciabatta bread. I got Artisanal bread. I didn’t really know what that was supposed to look like.”
Realizing what happened, and recognizing that I couldn’t hang around while they re-made my order, the manager said I could come back another day and get my order for free. Dorian asked where Leather Jacket’s order went to. The server popped up behind the manager with order 1042 in hand. 1042 was actually Leather Jacket’s, still unclaimed. Looking to keep things simple, I said I’d just take that order if it made everyone happy. All parties agreed and the manager even said I could still come back for another free meal.
Realization #7 Creating my Taste is too much work
It is clear that the standard McDonalds customer (myself included) should probably not be asked to reckon with so many options – especially options labeled “artisanal.” I know McD’s is trying to defy expectations, but at McD’s my expectation is not really choice or freedom. It’s ease, expediency, and well… McDonalds.
- Burger options: 1/3 lb burger or 1/4 lb burger
- Bun options: Toasted brioche, Baker’s bun, Ciabatta Bun, Lettuce wrap
- Cheese options: Colby jack, Swiss Cheese, McDonald’s classic cheese, Shaved parmesan, Mozzarella
- Topping options: Rasher bacon, Egg, Guacamole, Tortilla strips, Grilled mushroom, Grilled pineapple
- Vegetable options: Jalapenos, Tomato, Caramelised onion, Long sliced pickle, Beetroot, Red onion, Spinach, Coleslaw
- Sauce options: Ketchup, Tomato chilli jam, BBQ, Big Mac® Special sauce , Pesto mayo, Dijonnaise , Herb aioli, Pesto red capsicum, Aioli, Thai style mayo, Chipotle mayo
That’s 23,760 total possible combination!
Realization #8– It still tasted like McDonalds
I sat down with order 1042 and scarfed down its French fries – which had not been part of my order. I realized that was why Leather Jacket had gotten up when he got his order. The fries were missing because my order didn’t have fries. I palmed my burger, filled up my cup with vanilla coke and ate the rest of my meal on go as I walked back to my office.
Realization #9 – Changes have already been made
I went back a few weeks later ordered another Create your Taste from the self-service monolith and found two things. First, there wasn’t any more table seating. Now you waited for your order number to be called with everyone else. Second, you should get your drink while waiting. Good for McDonald’s taking this stuff seriously.
Realization #10– McDonalds’ gambit worked – and it didn’t work
Create Your Taste, the new décor, and an army of robot ordering stations did bring me back into the door after literally my years of passive separation from McDonalds. Twice in fact. But now that I’ve been through it and scratched my itch of curiosity, I’m not sure it’s enough to make me a regular customer. I suppose time will tell – that is, if the idea is rolled out in a wider fashion.