One of the most famous McDonald’s locations in the world just got a major makeover, inside and out.
The former Rock N Roll McDonald’s reopened last week as a new flagship store, and “redesign” is an understatement. The fast food giant unveiled a 19,000-square-foot structure and a business strategy that are all about two things: staying eco-friendly and improving the guest experience through digital.
So yes, that means there’s a lot of tech involved in this new iteration of an old fast food standard. Dubbed an “Experience of the Future” restaurant, the Chicago location incorporates all McDonald’s latest tech initiatives.
Self-order kiosks — which McDonald’s now plans to install in 1,000 stores each quarter — are front and center. Customers can browse, order, and customize food items, which a McDonald’s employee brings the food directly to the table. It’s a setup company CEO Steve Easterbrook calls “repurposing labor,” and it reportedly is creating more jobs, rather than leaving people unemployed. For those who prefer ordering the old-fashioned way, there are still four cashiers, and yes, they still take cash.
Kiosks are now in about 5,000 McDonald’s restaurants across the U.S. Adding 1,000 per quarter is part of the company’s plan to have kiosks in nearly all freestanding restaurants by 2020.
Better accommodating mobile is another key part of McDonald’s self reinvention. While there are fewer parking spaces in general (it is Chicago, after all), the new flagship has dedicated spaces for those doing curbside pickup via their mobile app. There will also be space to serve more Uber Eats drivers efficiently — another crucial part of McDonald’s rebranding strategy.
But plenty of chains are revamping their business strategies to focus on mobile and kiosks. What sets McDonald’s apart just a little bit more is the actual location. The Chicago flagship building is a massive steel, wood, and glass structure with 27-foot windows, an enclosed arboretum with birds, and over 70 trees on the ground level. It’s basically an Apple store with Big Macs. The location also has a solar pergola with 1,062 panels that can power about 60 percent of the restaurant.
None of these changes are specific to the Chicago location, though; they’re part of a $6 billion effort to “modernize most U.S. restaurants by 2020.”
In some cases, that word “modernize” could be be a BS term drummed up by a marketing department. The reason I believe McDonald’s is that this redesign — the current one as well as future stores — addresses multiple hot-button issues at once: digital ordering may be convenient, but it produces more waste and emissions, even when drivers are third parties or paying customers. That’s where those solar panels come in, as McDonald’s can use them to collect renewable energy and offset some of its non-renewable energy consumption onsite. (The Chicago restaurant is also in the process of becoming LEED certified.) Meanwhile, the addition of table service and Easterbrook’s “repurposing of labor” suggest that our fears of robots taking over might be overly pessimistic. For now, at least, automated services will just become another fixture in the restaurant.
But there’s one thing I can’t shake: at the end of the day, McDonald’s is still serving fast food, which, to name another hotly debated item, conflicts with increasing consumer desire to eat whole, health(ier) foods. Foliage and solar panels are great, but they don’t curb obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. McDonald’s is doing some work in this area. Burgers are now “100% fresh beef” that’s cooked to order. They also unveiled an initiative this year to make the Happy Meal a healthier option.
I’m going to risk oversimplifying the matter here by saying McDonald’s could do more to accelerate its these efforts. Offer more more fruits and veggies as side options. Deter excessive soda drinking by charging for refills. Serve plant-based burgers instead of triple cheeseburgers.
Granted, too many health-conscious options and it wouldn’t really be McDonald’s as we know it. Oddly enough, the mega chain could use that to its advantage. They more or less invented fast food as we know it. Why not modernize the notion of it while they’re reinventing the business?