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playing with food

The McDonald's of the future is in Australia

The company’s losing money, so here’s what it’s doing to get people eating there again.

Does this look like a McDonald’s meal to you? You might be surprised where it comes from… 

the corner The Corner McCafé The Corner McCafé

THE KEY TO the success of a fast-food outlet like McDonald’s used to be simple: consistency.

Go to any McDonald’s around the world and, with a few exceptions, you’d find the exact same experience as you’d get at home in Ireland: the golden arches; the red and yellow colour scheme; the same ordering system; the special sauce on the Big Mac; Ronald and his slightly terrifying face.

ronald gif YouTube YouTube

For some travellers adverse to – or afraid of – local cuisine, the McDonalds was the first port of call on a trip abroad in a new city.

The company even managed to find a home in some hospitals, in a curious case of ignoring-the-obvious.

McDonald’s has its roots in post-WWII suburbanisation in the US, combined with embracing of new technology and use of clever marketing. It offered people cheap, convenient food, at a time when busy families were turning to the ‘miracle’ of processed dinners.

From our vegetable juice-sipping , kale-eating vantage point today, it can be hard to see how a company offering fried food and beef burgers got so popular. But the business techniques that McDonald’s both pioneered and made the best of, like franchising and large-scale production, were novel and revolutionary.

Double dips

DIET MENUS CALORIES AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

But the US behemoth hasn’t escaped the recession – its profits dropped 15% last year, and sales have been dipping worldwide.

Associated Press reported that brand new CEO Steve Easterbrook said he will “strip away the bureaucracy at McDonald’s” so the company can better keep up with changing tastes.

“The reality is our recent performance has been poor. The numbers don’t lie,” said Easterbrook.

He only recently took over the hamburger chain, so what’s he going to do about getting more fries into people’s gobs?

The company will restructure itself, but that’s not where the changes stop. McDonald’s is looking beyond the US market and into the opportunities presented by hungry diners in countries like Australia and China.

What’s Oz got to do with it?

PA-8676487 US President Ronald Reagan eating McDonald's in 1984 AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

If we journey thousands of miles to Australia, we’ll see exactly how McDonald’s has been trying to change things from even before Easterbrook stepped up to the tray.

The company has slimmed down its menu worldwide, but now it’s looking beyond simplification and into putting more choice into the customers’ hands.

It’s also daring to break out from the McDonald’s neon-focused look of old, and take some inspiration from latte-toting hipster corner cafés.

The Corner


The hamburger home literally took inspiration from ‘corner cafés’ by creating its own test kitchen called The Corner McCafé.

Located on a (you guessed it) corner in Camperdown, Sydney, it’s a former common-or-garden McCafé that was transformed into a testing ground for new ideas.

Business Insider took a trip there last December, and you can read their account here.

The biggest takeaway from that visit was that the menu was going wilder than McDonald’s had gone before.

tofu_veg_soy_cann_ch_ceasar Business Insider Business Insider

At the Corner’s ‘learning lab’, you can find salads with Moroccan roast chicken breast, chipotle pulled pork, and even brown rice and lentils. 

There’s barista coffee, and burgers served not on greasy semi-transparent paper, but a Williamsburg-approved wooden board.

brioche_roll_full Business Insider Business Insider

And did we mention the brioche bun? Or the tofu?

Gone is the bright signage, replaced with muted and tasteful wooden boards and tables and chairs.

interior_light Business Insider Business Insider

This table-service café isn’t likely to be the new face of McDonalds (well, not just yet anyway), but it showed that the company was not adverse to trying something new and tempting in new customers.

It’s still open, so it looks like the testing is continuing apace.

Create Your Taste

While The Corner is a one-off for now, another way McDonald’s has been rolling out the changes is with its Create Your Taste option.

Rather than the choices ending at a brief thought of ‘Big Mac or Quarter Pounder’ at the tills, the company has decided to put more selections into its customers’ hands.

That means building their own burgers, a concept that is already used in higher-end burger restaurants here in Ireland, like The Counter.

Currently available in 300 selected outlets in Australia, as well as Singapore and California, there are plans to roll it out to thousands of McDonald’s outlets in the US this year.

Create Your Taste offers a choice of bun (or lettuce), with a beef quarter pounder patty, topped with the customer’s choice of vegetables, cheese sauce and ‘premium toppings’.

The ‘have a nice days’ are kept to a minimum, as the food is ordered using a touchscreen. There are plans to add chicken burgers to the Create Your Taste menu too.

People prone to dithering can select a pre-created option like Spicy Tortilla:

spicy tortilla McDonald's McDonald's

Some people took this to its inevitable conclusion – getting as much bacon as possible:

mcd gif

McDonald’s also launched its partnership with delivery service Postmates in New York earlier this week, and plans to offer a mobile app in the US in 2015.

Fast Food Delivery AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

The changes are big, but they’re necessary too – after the publication of books like 2001′s Fast Food Nation; the popularity of food writers like Michael Pollan; and the release of films like Super Size Me, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, and Food Inc, a new discussion evolved around the impact of fast food on people’s health.

supersize me YouTube YouTube

Alongside this came a focus on local food, artisan products and homemade meals. Times have moved on since the mid-20th century revolution that fast food helped forge. A return to ‘real food’ is growing – and McDonald’s knows this.

Time will tell whether getting rid of the yellow arches or even retiring Ronald McDonald will help to yank back up its declining sales.

One thing is for sure though – playing with its food is turning McDonald’s into a conversation-starter once more.

Do you eat at McDonald’s?

Poll Results:

Sometimes (2867)
Yes (1712)
No (1499)

Read: Here’s why McDonald’s self-service kiosks are probably not the best idea>

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