The news surrounding fast food giant McDonald's is bad. CEO Don Thompson suddenly departed in January in the face of a declining stock price and slumping sales. Although almost everyone grew up eating under Ronald's watchful gaze, younger diners haven't continued to patronize the Golden Arches.
To combat this slump and improve the experience of dining-in, the company has rolled out a new ordering system called Create Your Taste. The idea is simple — diners use a touchscreen to select everything from bun to patty to toppings.
The idea is simple — diners use a touchscreen to select everything from bun to patty to toppings.
Texas's first Create Your Taste restaurant opened recently in northwest Houston near the intersection of the Sam Houston Tollroad and 249. While CultureMap doesn't concentrate much on fast food or chain restaurants, the opportunity to experience this new direction seemed too good to miss.
"I think we’re trying to do something more for our guests that we haven’t done in the past," Doug Adcock tells CultureMap. Adcock owns nine local McDonald's, including the location that installed Create Your Taste. "We have great food. We just needed to create a better experience inside the restaurant in terms of what our customers could get and what their experience is when they visit McDonald’s."
While the drive-thru experience remains unchanged, Create Your Taste invites dine-in customers to slow down a bit. The burgers take eight to 10 minutes to prepare, and they're delivered open face to the table along with fries in a metal basket. The experience blends elements of both Whataburger and Smashburger.
Beyond the table service, Create Your Taste features a range of new toppings including guacamole, spicy mayonnaise, tortilla strips and jalapenos. "It’s a nice breadth of condiments and toppings to put on a burger," Adock says. "We think it’s great. We’re continuing to look at more additions as we move along."
Adcock says his customers are enjoying the new choices, but he's also seen his employees take new pride in what they're serving. "When they’re putting every pickle in a certain place, every slice of bacon in a certain place, that’s not because we’re telling them to do that. They’re serving it (directly) to the customer. They really want it to look right and be good. It’s been good for both sides of the counter. We like it," he says.
Of course, whether this works remains to be seen. Adcock hosted many of the 50 owners who operate a whopping 370 franchised McDonald's locations in the greater Houston area. Most of them are deciding whether to spend over $100,000 to install Create Your Taste in their locations. They'll be watching the results from Adcock's location and others around the country closely before making the investment.
At Adcock's invitation, I agreed to create my own taste for the chance to evaluate whether McDonald's could win me back.
As someone who hadn't eaten anything more substantial than fries from McDonald's in a few years, I was skeptical about the new direction. At Adcock's invitation, I agreed to create my own taste for the chance to evaluate whether McDonald's could win me back.
After going through the ordering process, I had a few minutes to catch up on Twitter before an employee arrived with my burger. She confirmed that I had received the correct mix of toppings. I took a first bite, and, yes, it tasted like a burger — not the rubbery mystery meat that had made me swear off of McDonald's burgers several years ago. Based on my experience, the new sirloin patty holds its own with a Whataburger, and my toppings, including the spicy mayo and cheddar cheese, proved a winning combination.
While it doesn't compete with dedicated burger restaurants like Bernie's Burger Bus or Hubcap Grill, it deserves a spot in my fast food rotation. Create Your Taste could potentially hold its own against national chains like Smashburger and 5 Guys if the burgers arrived medium and had a little drippage.
That's probably never going to happen, but still, a decent burger at McDonald's is a pleasant surprise. Of course, the fries are still crispy perfection.
Overall, only the most hardcore McDonald's fans will want to drive to northwest Houston to experience Create Your Taste. But as it rolls out to other locations across the city, it will surprise diners who, like me, had given up on it years before.