I haven’t cared about eating at McDonald’s since I was 8 years old.
It’s like Barbie dolls — you age out of the excitement early. Now I typically go there only for the fries and the occasional awesome Happy Meal toy. (My Little Pony and Hello Kitty, please.)
So I can see why McDonald’s is in the midst of a major overhaul, closing 700 of its more than 36,000 locations and cutting costs to the tune of $300 million. Somewhere between the fast-food documentary “Super Size Me,” the mythical pink slime and the fight for fair wages, the fries lost their fandom.
McDonald’s sales dipped like sweet ’n’ sour sauce last year: a 15 percent profit drop.
“The reality is our recent performance has been poor. The numbers don’t lie,” CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement Monday. So now what? The plan is to modernize Mickey D’s.
The company followed Chipotle’s lead and launched delivery in NYC on Monday. An app is coming soon. It’s testing a build-your-own burger option as well as all-day breakfast. On the menu, the only additions solidly unveiled have been sirloin burgers and chicken that’s a little less pumped with antibiotics.
That’s great. But McDonald’s is missing out on its strength: kids. Health police, don’t arrest me. I’m not trying to push grease and fat on the babies. I believe in healthy eating. But I also think of fast food as a treat. And McDonald’s, if you’re going to be a treat destination, be the best one.
Get back to the basics, but do it better. Keep borrowing from that Chipotle plan. Work with local farmers. Continue to step up healthy options. And instead of trying to be posh, upgrade the play.
McDonald’s was the No. 1 chain with kid appeal for 25 years. But last year Chick-fil-A knocked it out of the top spot because the food is better and it’s just a nicer place to be. At many locations, Tuesdays are Family Nights, when you get a free kids meal with each adult meal. Walk in and it’s a full on party. The place is packed.
Still, McDonald’s can win again. This is the house of Ronald McDonald the clown and his posse of Grimace, Hamburglar, Fry Kids and friends. It’s the place I used to love because my meal came in a bright red box — and not that scary “Happy the Box” nightmare either. Those Happy Meals (a concept invented by KC’s Bernstein-Rein Advertising) once felt like a gift. McDonald’s used to be an experience.
Even when I was in high school and eating copious amounts of Chick-fil-A, I was lured into working at a McDonald’s. Not behind the counter, but in the PlayPlace. I was a PlayPlace Ranger. Yes, it was a thing. I hosted birthday parties and Donkey Kong competitions, and I was the one who climbed up the slide tunnel to save the kids who were too scared to come down.
McDonald’s eventually pulled the plug on the Rangers and made the indoor playgrounds more do-it-yourself for parents. Maybe that’s when they went wrong. I’m not saying it has to go full Chuck E. Cheese, but the chain should make a commitment to the children that goes a little deeper than apple slices and yogurt.
Easterbrook wants McDonald’s to grow into a “modern, progressive burger company.” I’m not an MBA, but even I can see that’s not going to pop as a business plan. I don’t care how much lettuce they stack on top of grilled chicken and throw between a brick-hard bun. It’s never going to pass as artisan.
Make it fun, make it healthy and maybe McDonald’s might make the customers happy.