Have you heard the latest makeover, marketing-wise, from Ronald and friends?
“At McDonald’s, we’re making changes based on what we’re hearing from all of you,” they want you to know. “That’s why we work hard to make tasty food with a ‘less is more’ philosophy.”
Let’s deconstruct that serving of high-calorie ad copy tossed into our collective car windows as we drive by their website.
First of all, yeah — there’s a lot of “hard work” going on at every McDonald’s restaurant. Have you ever waited at the counter for your order to be handed over by that shift’s minimum-wage worker wearing a headset, responding to drive-thru demands, answering dumb questions while making coffee, overriding the register when the right picture of an Egg McMuffin wasn’t pushed?
There’s a lot of hard work goin’ on, but not necessarily on the part of the marketing executives cashing retainer checks from Oak Brook, Illinois.
But making changes? Heck, yeah. You’d better believe that’s goes on at every restaurant chain in the Western world. That’s not unique to the Golden Arches.
And listening to their customers? You wouldn’t believe how much cold cash is invested in that process. But it’s spent on trying to figure out the right seasoning mix (which generally means, how much is too much?), the ideal cook time for fries to produce the requisite crispiness in the shortest possible time span, and how to create excitement over cosmetic changes such as paper vs. plastic for the sandwiches they shovel down those myriad chutes at the front of the kitchen.
And “less is more?” Let me share how that plays out in real time.
‘Grand’ is in the Eye of the Beholder
Take the recent line extension for the Big Mac, which I find hard to believe was driven by customers badgering store managers across North America with the demand, “Why aren’t you offering a range of different sizes for the Big Mac?”
Well, those (alleged) prayers have been answered, because now there’s the Big Mac, the Mac Jr. and the Grand Mac, that last sandwich proudly offering “real beef seasoned with salt and pepper sandwiched between a sesame seed bun and dressed with special sauce, crisp lettuce, onions, pickles and two slices of American cheese.”
I tried one — nearly six bucks with tax, by the way — and whatever craving I might have had quickly disappeared as soon as I tried to slice it in half to share with my teen-aged son, given that finishing off 900 calories all by myself seemed a little over the top.
You can’t slice through this triple decker concoction. It contains so much “special sauce” that the buns slide off into a sea of soggy lettuce shreds piled an inch thick onto a pair of dried out patties.
I hate to be critical, but by any standard — flavor, eye appeal, mouthfeel — this Grand Mac was about the worst foodservice hack I’ve ever wasted good money on.
In the context of all the McDonald’s advertising emphasizing “real beef” burgers (as opposed to fake beef?), “real buttermilk” in its Crispy Buttermilk Chicken (is there an alternative? Test-tube buttermilk?), and “freshly cracked eggs” (a job that can simply be added to the duties that headset-wearing assistant manager’s already tasked with getting done), one would assume that quality would be Job No. 1.
But this is the fast-food industry. First comes “fast,” then comes “food.”
I can’t imagine that the new Big Mac line-up is going to be a marketing home run. In fact, I predict those alternatives will enjoy a few months of the spotlight on the menuboard, and then be quietly put out to pasture — or wherever over-priced, underwhelmingly sandwich concoctions go to die.
As long as the operating mantra of a restaurant is to fling the food at customers in a little time as humanly possible, quality will always take a back seat to efficiency.
I don’t begrudge the fast-food industry offering up less-than-nutritious foods to its customer base. Nobody’s out there in the drive-thru lanes with a shotgun ordering people to load up on McFlurrys and McMuffins and McCafes … okay, their coffee’s a pretty darn good value. We’re free to spend those thousands of dollars we annually allocate to “food away from home” anywhere we want.
But I’ll take the “working hard to make tasty food” mantra with more than just the pinch of salt they sprinkle onto those 100% all-beef patties.
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.