Somehow I went to sleep last night and woke up inside the movie Demolition Man. Or at least the part of the movie where Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone enjoy a swanky night out at five-star Taco Bell, because it was the only restaurant to survive the Franchise Wars.
(Image shamelessly poached from the Toronto Star .)
The management of McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada, Ltd. are attempting a quantum shift in the marketing and branding of their fast-food outlets. There’s going to be a high-traffic area for the people who just want to eat their food and split, and another where groups of people can sit and be cozy for longer periods of time. Oh, and there will be wi-fi in some locations, too.
Instead of the golden arches’ traditional fluorescent lighting, bright wall colours, and hard glass fibre chairs, customers will now find accented lights, cushioned booths and plasma televisions.
“With customer expectations changing, they are consistently demanding more and more from the services they are getting, whether it’s buying clothes or going to restaurants,” said Barry Desclouds, vice-president in charge of national restaurant development at McDonald’s Canada. “One thing we want to make sure we are doing is that we are maintaining relevance.”
— Thulasi Srikanthan, “McDonald’s outlets getting comfy look“. Toronto Star, September 13th, 2007.
I have a feeling that the senior brass at McDonald’s Canada have forgotten who their primary demographic is. So here’s a brief reminder:
- Kids with ketchup in their hair
- Rambunctious kids with ketchup in their hair and bladder control problems
- Parents of 1), 2) and 3).
The reason the Starbucks approach works so well for that franchise is because their demographic target is a little different. If you walk into a Starbucks you can be reasonably sure that you will be shamefully overcharged for coffee and subjected to the staff’s horrible musical taste, but you’ll have the opportunity to take up their comfortable seating for an hour and surf the web on your laptop, without any interference from the McDonald’s demographic.
I’m trying to imagine sitting in a leather club chair at Mickey D’s, watching ESPN on the plasma and surfing the wi-fi web. While in the background, the deep fryer beeps away madly and inattentive parents are more focused on chatting with each other than on surpervising their offspring. Kids are playing tag throughout the restaurant, running and laughing as they bump into and hide behind other patrons. Yep, that sounds like a winning formula to me.
Well, it’s a winning formula to someone.
Desclouds said the success of the redesigned outlets has prompted a “very aggressive strategy” to redesign the rest.
“We have absolutely seen increased traffic in all those restaurants and one of the things that really excites us is we are seeing more repeat visits.”
Generally I’m supportive of a restaurant’s efforts to drag itself into greater profitability, but let’s be realistic here. A decor makeover will only get you so far. The primary purpose of a restaurant is to make money by serving food. Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris Steak House can put you in wing-backed leather chairs and oak-panelled walls because you’re going to drop 300 bucks on a superb meal for two, easily. But no matter how lovely the McDonald’s—even if it were a private-beach seaside resort in Bermuda—at the end of the day you’re getting low-rent mass-produced junk food. Surrounded by an audience a fraction of your age.
If McD’s dumped the fast-food menu along with the uncomfortable chairs (and posted sentries in the “adult” section to keep the minors out), I might be inclined to visit more often. Start serving good steaks and scotch. Put in a cigar lounge. Eject the minors that use it as their personal playground. Ah hell, just tear down the whole joint and replace it with a Barberians.
Good luck with the restaurant makeover, fellas. I’m sure those club chairs and cushioned booths are going to look (and smell) just stellar after a year or two.