McDonald’s, the company that put “fast food” on the map 57 years ago, now wants to become the place to linger, relax and slowly enjoy time.
A massive undertaking is renovating nearly all of the company’s 13,000 U.S. locations, at a rate of 1000 a year. It’s anticipated that 75 percent of them will be completed by the end of 2015.
The finished units are comfortable, bright, colorful, open, inviting and – perhaps most important of all – modern. “In 1955, McDonald’s was America’s most modern and innovative brand,” says Francesco Cordua, director of U.S. retail experience. “True to our roots, we’re driving a reimaging effort that will return us to those original parameters.”
While over the years it has added such interior elements as children’s play areas and flatscreen TVs, Cordua says McDonald’s is still often seen as a place to order quickly, grab the tray and rush through
The new idea, he says, is to enhance the experience after diners have ordered their meals. “We want diners – whether families with children or businesspeople having an informal meeting – to feel they can come in, take a break, have a conversation, watch TV or use our WiFi connection,” he says. “We want them to enjoy being there.”
So inside these new environments, materials are richer, colors lighter and lighting warmer. The dining area is divided into zones, and the seating varies from booths and square four-top tables to longer community tables with bar stools. Decorative, modern light pendants hang from the ceiling. Colorful patterns of paper and graffiti-like graphics fill the walls. And wooden sculptural elements serve as informal architectural dividers between the various zones.
In the booths, upholstery replaces the familiar fiberglass. Tabletops have also been upgraded to laminates or solid surface materials (like Corian). At the tables, chairs have been unhinged from the floor so they can be moved around and rearranged
The upgrades produce a warmer, more upscale, almost residential look and feel. But Cordua emphasizes that this is not an attempt to recreate people’s living rooms. “We want the overall experience to be as comfortable and inviting as guests’ homes,” he says, “but ultimately we want to tap into what people enjoy about going out to dinner.”
On the outside, the red mansard roof has been replaced with a flat top and the familiar golden arch is more stylized and less arch-like. The McDonald’s “M” is still visible on a white wall with yellow trim and a lot of windows.
It’s a bold move for the brand. But with almost 65 million people around the world visiting a McDonald’s location every day, the company feels a significant level of trust has been accomplished. “We don’t feel it’s necessary to overbrand our exteriors,” Cordua says. “The clean, modern design is an elegant background that remains uncluttered and allows our signage to stand out and be easily recognizable.”
Multiple formats have been developed so that local owner/operators can create appropriate experiences for their own communities. The goal, Cordua says, “is to make sure the right solution for each individual restaurant can be found within our shared palette of brand decors. We do not mandate any particular selection for any of our operators, but we’re always happy to work with them to choose the right decor for their customers.”
Part of this is an effort to make customers want to come back inside. Since McDonald’s first developed its drive-through in 1975, the percentage of drive-through business has zoomed to around 65 percent of all U.S. business, says Alison Guy, McDonald’s retail design director.
But, Cordua says, drive-through customers tend to revert to food items they’ve ordered before, missing all that’s new inside. All the exterior windows now allow the drive-through customers to see the changes inside. Once they enter the restaurant, he says, they’ll become acquainted not only with the ever-expanding menu choices (now up to 190 items), but also with the new brand look and feel.
“We want to replace the notion of ‘fast food’ with ‘good food fast,’ ” Cordua says. “This is an updated perception of quality, convenience and new menu offerings that expresses the same level of attention to detail that has always been the McDonald’s experience – living up to the promise McDonald’s has always stood for as a classic American brand.”