When McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc began spreading fast food culture across the U.S. in the ‘50s and ‘60s, he insisted on hard, immovable, uncomfortable chairs in his high-speed burger barns.
Kroc put the “fast” in fast food. He wanted McDonald’s food to be cooked fast, customers served fast, and dine-in guests to eat fast and leave. Kroc’s business plan was based on selling mass quantities of good, trustworthy food at low prices. To achieve that, he needed to turn those tables in his restaurants. He didn’t want squatters enjoying long social chatty meals. That’s why the rigid, straight-back plastic chairs.
Don’t get comfy. Eat and get the heck out … please. Thank you.
That was then.
Welcome to McDonald’s “Experience of the Future,” a new business psychology that the fast food empire hopes will sell even more “billions and billions” of Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets, Filet-O-Fish Sandwiches, McFlurries, and those unbeatable, glorious, golden brown French fries. I wish I had a large order of fries sitting next to me now.
Instead of rushing customers out of the restaurant, McDonald’s is inviting guests to “sit a spell, take your shoes off, y’all come back now, ya hear?” Just a personal note: keep your shoes on. People are eating here.
The first “Experience of the Future” McDonald’s in the Houston area (actually in Texas) had its grand opening last weekend. It’s located on Morton Ranch Road in Katy. I dropped by Sunday morning for my usual – Sausage McMuffin with egg whites and a large Diet Coke with a free roadie for the drive home.
The food was the same – whew, nobody in fast food touches McDonald’s for breakfast.
Everything else was upside down and different.
The first thing I noticed was kiosks, like the self-check-in machines at airports. Here customers can order and customize their food. You can select which bun you want, toppings, sides, and drinks. The touch-screens let customers “build” their meal, add or subtract toppings, and keep track of calories. For example, you’ll see the damage that mayonnaise on a sandwich causes. The more you know, the smarter you’ll eat. I like this feature of the kiosks.
Don’t worry, if high-tech food ordering intimidates you, there is somebody at the kiosks to hold your hand and explain how they work. There are old-fashioned humans and cash registers at the counter, too.
The décor is updated and more welcoming. All tables are equipped with Bluetooth wireless technology to allow table service. That’s weird at McDonald’s.
There are new, super bright menu boards and interactive entertainment and video game systems. An expanded playground and patio for al fresco dining are out back.
I sat at a table with flashing disco lights. Knowing McDonald’s and how every microscopic detail is tested, and then tested 10 more times, I’m sure those lights were responsible for me ordering a second Sausage McMuffin with egg whites. I probably would have done it, anyway. I’m weak.
“It’s a new experience and environment for McDonald’s. We’re not pushing people out the door. We want them to come in, use the Wifi and enjoy all of our new features,” said David Glaser, owner of the Morton Ranch McDonald’s. “The idea is to create an inclusive ‘living room’ feel. We want people to feel at home and come back often.”
There is plenty of seating in the dining room, so “Internet hobos,” people who bring laptops and use McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc. as their remote office, are fine here. Again a personal note, I think fast food tables should have a timer on them. “Ding” and you must leave. Too many times, I’ve had to stand, holding my bag, while a clown is reading “War and Peace” on his iPad at a table. Internet hobos are impervious to dirty looks.
Here’s one I’ve always wondered about. Typical McDonald’s, at least the ones I’ve visited, have a television on the wall. Usually the TV is turned to a national news channel. That can’t be good for business. If the TV is on Fox News, that doesn’t make Democrats happy. If it’s on CNN or MSNBC, that’s not an appetizing choice for Republicans. Plus, given today’s news, there could be scenes of death and destruction, certainly not suitable for children.
I noticed the big screen TV at the “Experience of the Future” McDonald’s was turned to light entertainment, provided by a special programming service.
About 65 percent of McDonald’s business is done in the drive-through. Glaser said more customers are coming inside his “Experience of the Future” restaurant to check out the innovations. About 40 percent of dine-in guests are using the kiosks.
There are 14,000 McDonald’s in the U.S., with 300 in the Houston area. McDonald’s plans to “Future-ize” most of them by 2020.