I'll be honest, I have always been a huge fan of fast food. Having worked in a takeaway from a very young age, fast food has always been at the very core of my existence. In my opinion, balancing a healthy diet together with the odd indulgence is what the enjoyment of food is all about. So, I was intrigued when I was invited by McDonald's UK to attend one of their restaurants to learn more about its evolution. My intrigue stemmed largely from what it was about McDonald's that I didn’t already know with it being one of the most well known brands in the entire universe.
Saying that, McDonald's has changed massively over my lifetime. I remember the days when the ubiquitous Ronald McDonald clown mascot was at the forefront of its marketing and the burgers came in polystyrene boxes, which probably shows my age more than anything else. There was also the old rivalry between having children's birthday parties at McDonald's versus Wimpy (does Wimpy exist any more?!), where Ronald would make an appearance to greet the party-goers, not that I ever had the pleasure of having one of these parties hosted in my honour.
These days, Ronald doesn’t appear to be anywhere and the focus seems to have shifted somewhat from my halcyon memories from the 1980s. Even entering into the McDonald's restaurant that I was invited to was a stark reminder of how much has changed. Everything from the modern décor to the tech littered around (more of this later) kept highlighting to me just how much the luxury of convenience and speed has evolved in a fast food environment.
Whilst McDonald's has always been one of the quickest for service out of all the major fast food chains, they are taking steps to up their game even more in speed of service and the simplification of ordering, yet enhancing the ability to tailor the ingredients for customers. This is being achieved by the use of self-service technology. You may have seen the big touchscreen ordering kiosks at some McDonald's outlets before (see below) and this is one of the ways in which McDonald's wish to change the dining experience for its customers.
The idea behind using these is that a customer can choose their orders quickly as well as tailor the order to their specific preferences. For example, if you want to remove a specific ingredient (e.g. remove the onions in a burger) – all of this can be achieved by a few simple taps on these touchscreen kiosks. Once an order is placed, it's just a matter of collecting an order number and waiting for your food to be prepared. Calorie information is also now displayed against any order, which I assume is useful for some people, although I don’t tend to keep such precise tabs on the amount of calories I pop into my body.
An additional benefit of the kiosks is that you can now choose to wait for your order whilst seated. This table service availability is again chosen on the touchscreen by selecting a "zone" where you choose to sit and the food will be brought to you when ready. The convenience of table service is a very big step and I'm not aware of other fast food chains going to these lengths for their customers. This is a hugely convenient offering especially for parents like myself who might need to placate three restless children under five years old and thus preventing a re-enactment of the fast food scene in "Falling Down" (i.e. the 1993 film starring Michael Douglas – told you I am old). For those are less tech-savvy, counter ordering remains an option.
More tech was noticeable at the restaurant in the form of tablets which are ideal for distracting children before or after food with games available. Wireless charging hubs as well as charging cables for those of us without the more modern wireless charging phones were also available. It did feel like customer convenience and satisfaction really was at the heart of McDonald's mentality in seeking to differentiate itself from its competitors by embracing technology.
It was also genuinely interesting to hear more about what McDonald's were also planning for the future with potential plans for home delivery (which already exists in Hong Kong) and ordering in advance via an app. The latter being a concept where you can place an order on your mobile and when you get within a certain proximity of your chosen restaurant, you would be prompted to confirm your order and, after doing so, the kitchen will start to prepare your food before you arrive.
As part of the event, I was invited to take part in constructing my own Big Mac – my all time favourite McDonald's burger. I enjoyed doing this, not least because the result was my very own Big Mac but because I'd never been in a McDonald's kitchen before and it was interesting to take a look behind the scenes. As I have worked in different kitchens between the age of eight years old and my twenties, experiencing an altogether different kitchen set up was unique and interesting to compare.
The striking aspects about the kitchen were that it was clean and calm (less messy and a LOT less frantic than kitchens I have worked in), modern (e.g. automatic "thickness of burger" detecting grills to ensure correct cooking times!) and very precise (e.g. almost a military precision behind every aspect of the cooking and assembly of a burger). It was a sight to behold and it made sense how McDonald's achieved the uniformity of its food and speed in delivering it.
After demolishing the Big Mac within approximately 4.7 seconds, I was also treated to a Signature Burger which is sold as a more premium burger with a thick pattie. I had "The Spicy" and loved the fact that they contain jalapenos as a massive fan of spicy food. We were also able to sample the thicker Signature beef patties on their own and eating them plain was a great way to focus on the tastiness of the beef.
In summary, the event was a fantastic insight into the ubiquitous fast food behemoth and it was surprising to learn that McDonald's focused so much on innovation in its service offering to gain customer share in providing customer service like no other fast food chain. The staff were very passionate and knowledgeable about the business (even knowing the average number of grams of onion in a Big Mac) and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
DISCLOSURE NOTE: I was sponsored to attend and write about this event, but all opinions stated herein are written by me and reflect my own personal views.
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