McDon­ald’s su­per­sizes ef­forts to stay pop­u­lar

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Candice Choi Charles Rex Arbogast, The As­so­ci­ated Press

ROMEOVILLE, ILL.» McDon­ald’s is hop­ing to make a dif­fer­ence in its fu­ture seven sec­onds at a time.

The com­pany that helped de­fine fast food is mak­ing su­per­sized ef­forts to re­verse its fad­ing pop­u­lar­ity and catch up to a land­scape that has evolved around it. That in­cludes ex­pand­ing de­liv­ery, dig­i­tal or­der­ing kiosks in restau­rants and rolling out an app that saves pre­cious sec­onds.

Much of the work is on dis­play in an un­marked ware­house near the com­pany’s head­quar­ters in sub­ur­ban Chicago, where a blowup of a mo­bile phone screen shows the app launch­ing na­tion­ally later this year. McDon­ald’s es­ti­mates it would take 10 sec­onds for a cus­tomer to tell an em­ployee their or­der num­ber from the app, down from the 17sec­ond av­er­age of or­der­ing at the drive-thru, a dif­fer­ence that could help ease pile­ups. Else­where at the In­no­va­tion Cen­ter, the dig­i­tal or­der­ing kiosk shows how cus­tomers can skip lines at the reg­is­ter.

“Five, 10 years ago, we were the dom­i­nant player in con­ve­nience, as con­ve­nience was de­fined in those days,” CEO Steve Easter­brook said last month. “But con­ve­nience con­tin­u­ally gets re­de­fined, and we haven’t mod­ern­ized.”

An es­ti­mated 613,000 places were sell­ing ei­ther food or drink in the U.S. last year, up 17 per­cent from a decade ear­lier, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures. Su­per­mar­kets and con­ve­nience stores are of­fer­ing more pre­pared foods, and mealkit de­liv­ery com­pa­nies have been ex­pand­ing.

“Bet­ter burger” places like Shake Shack and Habit Burger Grill don’t come close to McDon­ald’s roughly 14,000 U.S. lo­ca­tions, but they’re grow­ing. And even if Star­bucks and Dunkin Donuts don’t serve burg­ers, they are among those pro­mot­ing food more.

“They’re still tak­ing cus­work­ers tomers from the same mar­ket pool,” said Nick Kar­avites, a McDon­ald’s fran­chisee with 22 lo­ca­tions in the Chicago area.

One main fo­cus is the drive-thru, where McDon­ald’s gets about 70 per­cent of its busi­ness.

Cus­tomers who place or­ders on the mo­bile app, for in­stance, could pull into a des­ig­nated park­ing spot where an em­ployee would bring out their or­der. That would the­o­ret­i­cally ease back­ups at the drive-thru.

Then there’s the part­ner­ship with UberEats to of­fer de­liv­ery.

Such changes aren’t likely to trans­form op­er­a­tions overnight, since most of McDon­ald’s cus­tomers might pre­fer to or­der the way they al­ways have.

“That’s like turn­ing a very large ship,” said Kar­avites, not­ing the range of com­pany ef­forts in­tended to build sales over time. At his re­mod­eled restau­rant in Chicago where de­liv­ery was re­cently launched, he said sales are al­ready climb­ing.

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