- The 1955 McDonald's menu, Des Plaines, IL

How I Would Fix McDonald's

Some fast food slingers must innovate. Ronald McDonald needs to stick to basics.

39w ago

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New decade starts in three...two...one...

If you're a millennial, or even a bit older, you have zero recollection of a time when McDonald's food was considered 'good'. Maybe the french fries. They're not the best you've ever had but even I admit a fresh, hot McD's fry is hard to beat. But otherwise, this illustrates the Mickey D's experience:

Pictured: a stylized advertisement Big Mac, next to an actual purchased Big Mac

Pictured: a stylized advertisement Big Mac, next to an actual purchased Big Mac

You can't compare their burgers to what you can find in almost any corner pub, which is unsurprising. But even compared to the other fast food burgers from BK and Wendy's, not to mention the regional chains like Culver's, In-n-Out, Freddy's & Whataburger, Ronnie suffers terribly. Yes, there are over 36,000 locations in over 100 countries. How can we expect a solid, uniform experience throughout the enterprise? Certainly logistics & ingredient availability, along with local customs and expectations complicate matters. It is a Herculean task to provide the support and training required to ensure quality.

So, knowing this, why the hell does McDonald's keep complicating things for their owners and employees by adding nonsensical items to their menu? Each time they decide that they want to beat Popeye's at their own game by bringing in a Spicy Chicken Sandwich, it requires another new supply chain, along with additional equipment and training. All for a sandwich nobody expects to be any good, and will be gone in six months.

Look, here is an original McDonald's burger grill:

Two dudes, two grills. A bit dingy. This must have been before the Speedie System

Two dudes, two grills. A bit dingy. This must have been before the Speedie System

Once upon a time, a McDonald's was a place you could go to get a tasty burger, fries and a shake for around a dollar. There's a good reason why there are now 36,000 locations: for many years, Mickey D's meant good food, good value, and clean locations. Franchisees were centrally managed and tightly bound to the Speedie System, a comprehensive guide on how to do everything within each facility, including cooking, cleaning and serving product. Employees were highly trained and expected to concentrate on their specific responsibility like an assembly line. McDonald's didn't care what other restaurants were doing; they stuck to their limited menu and executed each order with an optimum level of speed, quality while holding prices down. This made them the largest restaurant chain on Earth.

These days? Just look at what a high school kid at her first job sees on her first day:

Shelves, pumps, levers, buttons. And look at that burger patty? I don't want to eat that.

Shelves, pumps, levers, buttons. And look at that burger patty? I don't want to eat that.

All of this is preamble for my humble request: Keep It Simple, Stupid!! Quit trying to be all things for all people. I am convinced that the secret to surviving the next decade is to simplify in all things, whether you are Fiat Chrysler, United Airlines or McDonald's. Here is the entire menu of a highly rated fast burger enterprise previously mentioned in this article:

If you were 16, would you rather run the grill here, or at McDonald's?

If you were 16, would you rather run the grill here, or at McDonald's?

Notice the similarities between this and the original 1955 McD's menu at the top of this article, back when it was good? You go to this place, you know the burgers will be piping hot and juicy. Also note how much cheaper the prices are, especially if you order a Double-Double, like everyone over the age of 9 tends to do. If you are the CEO for McDonald's, and you are reading this because you care about food, here is my Strategic Business Plan that you don't have to pay $35 million for.

First, let's work on this breakfast menu:

Don't be a Jack of All Trades; be the Master of One. Or Two. This doesn't even include breakfast burritos.

Don't be a Jack of All Trades; be the Master of One. Or Two. This doesn't even include breakfast burritos.

Not including the pancakes, cinnamon muffins, and other seasonal breadstuffs, McD's sells English muffins, biscuits, McGriddles, and bagels. The Egg McMuffin is iconic, and the McGriddle, a supersweet pancake-like bun infused with syrup, is a singular innovation and should be preserved.

McDonald's needs to get out of the Biscuit business, and the Bagel business, and the Pancake business, and the Tortilla business, and everything else that isn't an English Muffin or McGriddle.

Not including oatmeal or any newfangled meat-free thing they may have come up with in the past 45 minutes, McD's sells sausage, bacon, Canadian bacon, fried Chicken and a 'steak' item reminiscent of a lightly chopped Philly cheesesteak. It's sold in supermarkets as 'Steakumms'. You will note that you cannot get a burger for breakfast. Why the hell do you need to have Steakumms for breakfast when you could just fry up a burger? Otherwise, Canadian bacon is part of the iconic Egg McMuffin, the sausage is pretty good but the bacon is inconsistent. The breakfast chicken tastes like a tater tot.

McDonald's needs to get out of the Bacon business, and the Fried Chicken business, and absolutely out of the Steakumm business. If someone insists on eating cow for breakfast, just grill them a burger, instead?

The result? You can have sausage, Canadian bacon or a burger on an English muffin or a McGriddle. People really don't need anything more than that. Simplify, make them with a bit more care so they more closely resemble what we see on TV, and get them out fast to eliminate having to be parked in Drive Thru while you're already running late for work.

Now, let's tackle the rest of the menu:

No wonder everything comes out looking like it was dropped down a long chute

No wonder everything comes out looking like it was dropped down a long chute

A few things jump out to me from this labyrinth of a menu:

95% of the right side of the menu can be thrown out. McDonald's needs to be out of the ice cream novelty business. Their cones and other items are worse than anything the most woebegone ice cream stand can pump out on their worst day. The whole Happy Meal concept is a constant source of ridicule for everyone from BK to PETA. The Dollar Menu would be rendered moot if the rest of the menu represented the best possible value after processes were simplified.

The McCafe is utterly pointless. If you live in a place with a Starbucks, why would you go to McD's for a latte? If you don't live in a place with a Starbucks, most likely you don't want a latte. I know lots of old folks spend their mornings in McDonald's but they're drinking 24 cent Senior coffees, black. They aren't drinking lattes. Besides, the coffee beans they use are pretty standard, and most of the time I have asked for something 'fancy', I've been told that 'the equipment is down'. I understand the corporation has invested millions in the concept but they need to get out of the coffee shop business because they are bad at it.

They need to get out of the Chicken business altogether. They can keep McNuggets, since I'm not convinced those are real chicken anyway. They also need to stop trying to make Deluxe burgers. At least six times since the 1980's McDonald's has launched then dropped attempts to make 'dressed up' burgers. They need to drop all pretenses on being a 'healthy alternative' choice. It is ok to be just a burger joint. Stop it with the salads, the lean seaweed burgers, the wraps.

The Big Mac is iconic, a true burger innovation. Once upon a time, they were really good. It would be worth buying if it were prepared with a bit more care, and if it provided better value than it currently does. I would propose the concept of the Big Mac be kept, and extended to the quarter pound patty.

The Entire Resulting Menu

Breakfast: McMuffin with sausage, Canadian bacon or burger patty. With or without egg. McGriddle with sausage, Canadian bacon or burger patty. With or without egg. Coffee, milk, orange juice.

Regular: 2 oz hamburger, cheeseburger, or Big Mac. 4 oz hamburger, cheeseburger, or Big Mac. Filet o' Fish. McNuggets. Fries, Coke/Sprite/Diet/Dr. Pepper/HiC Orange. In fact, get the Coke Freestyle machines. Vanilla/Chocolate/Strawberry shakes.

Bring back the flattop grills; bring back the Speedie System; no ground beef is frozen. No gatdam lettuce anywhere. Realize savings from the decreased complexity of preparation/logistics/supply chains and pass that along in the form of reduced prices. Profit.

Thank you for your time, and you're welcome for the advice. Next episode: how I would save General Motors!

Obviously I've thought about this a lot. Thank you for reading. Comments?

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Comments (12)

  • I totally agree with this. Please, some genius, apply the Speedy System to wood oven pizza, with robots, and we can be rid of pizza the hut and papa johns and dominoes. The axis of pizza evil.

      8 months ago
  • Hey we should invent an automatic burger flipper grill so Mc Donalds doesn't have to use it's microwaves anymore.

      8 months ago
  • The recommendations are exactly what In-N-Out Burger does and has always done. Burgers, shakes, fries and soda. That's it. It's simple, it does not change, it's fresh not frozen, it's good, it's affordable.

      8 months ago
  • How to fix McDonald’s? Add booze.

    Boom.

      8 months ago
  • In the states, you have 400 fast-food different outlets. Here in Aus, I can really only think of three - Hungry Jacks (Burger King), KFC, and McD's - and only the latter is really ubiqituous. As in you're always near one.

    And hence, and because every stop there on a roadtrip was in the face of opposition from mum and her jam sandwiches, I grew up a McDonald's partisan. I've never grown out of it either.

    I can trace my McDonald's journey too - Happy Meal to Quarter Pounder (marked 'the day I grew up' in my diary) to BigMac. And now to BigMac with 10 pack of chicken nuggets.

    I'd love to hear your solution to GM over on DriveTribe.

      9 months ago
    • Same thing, essentially. It's something that doesn't seem difficult to me, and I really really hope that FCA is doing this as we speak. If you have X number of brands, it is my belief that there should be Zero overlap between their...

      Read more
        8 months ago
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