Posts tagged “fast food”

Chipotle: Different and Better?

Ode To A Burrito is a Fast Company profile of Chipotle Mexican Grill and iconoclastic founder and CEO Steve Ells.

Chipotle has achieved these impressive stats by spurning fast-food orthodoxy….Chipotle also avoids the frills that pad other chains’ bottom lines. “Desserts and other sides are all profit for these chains,” says industry analyst Clark Wolf. “The whole infrastructure’s already there, so they can make a 90% margin on extras.” But founder and CEO Steve Ells staunchly refuses to expand his menu beyond four options (burrito, burrito bowl, taco, salad). “We want to do just a few things better than everyone else,” Ells says. “We just do things we think are right.”

Could you open a movie theater without popcorn, focusing instead on the core few things that enable the desired experience (this is a bad metaphor since of course popcorn is readily seen as intrinsic to a movie experience, in-home or in the theater)? Is Ells throwing away money for an idea that is meaningless or does he have a holistic Jobs-like vision that drives decisions like this (his name is Steve…)?

Elsewhere the article refers to fans of the chain and describes the growth and financial success the company is showing. But what do you think? Is this company run by a brilliant visionary?

Morale and milkshakes

From a strange article in the NYT about McDonald’s holding an employee-only American Idol-style singing competition (for reasons they don’t exactly make clear)

Employee contests with big prizes are nothing new in corporate America. McDonald’s has pitted stores and regions against one another to determine who makes the best shakes.

But I thought that shakes (sorry, not milkshakes) were identical from store to store, based on a standard recipe and ingredients. Then what do you compete on? Speed? Panache?

Food Preparation Customs

Taipei 101

Fresh juice

At the market in the basement of Taipei 101, I ordered a fresh juice from a juice stand. The young man who was making the juice rapidly measured and assembled the ingredients in a blender. As he was blending the fruit, he began to pour in honey. After a moment, he grabbed a long spoon, stuck it in what was becoming my drink, tasted and took a taste. Then with one hand he threw the spoon in the sink and with the other he added more honey.

Fruit, of course, is inconsistent. If you want to prepare food to a certain sweetness (or other taste attribute), and the ingredients aren’t exactly the same, how else can you do it without tasting?

In the west, at least, fast food is typically based on sourcing consistent ingredients and building a trainable process so the staff don’t have to use subjective judgments like taste in order to prepare a good product. As well, we don’t expect that people preparing our food would be eating it. In this case, the spoon was clean and was disposed of right away, so there was no chance of contamination, but the whole concept that this person consumed something and then gave me the rest was just so unfamiliar.

Yet another standard that I hadn’t even questioned until I saw it play out differently in Taipei.

Making the familiar unfamiliar, or traveling the continuum of appetizing-ness

While in Japan, in a Mitsukoshi food hall, we came across Konopizza, pizza (and desserts!) in a cone.

It’s not just a Japanese company, and they are aiming for the English speaking market with “the future of pizza, the pizza of the future.” I have seen the future of pizza and its name is Kono? Personally, I hope not. Think about biting into one and managing the mass of bubbling cheese goo. I foresee burning messy gagging.

Here are some variations on the hot dog from Ginza.
Coney dog, okay. Cheese dog, sure. Bacon potato, I dunno?

Egg? Zucchini? These are rather elegant reinterpretations of the serviceable wiener, but they read so unappealing and dissonant. I’m all for elegant reinterpretations of fast food but these struck me as very foreign (granted, I was the foreigner, trying to find the symbols of home in another environment).

Stay tuned for our Taiwan snack food experiences.

And one more that I’ve been hanging onto for a very long time. Family Boat appears to be a concept restaurant, with a website intended to appeal to investors and future franchisees. They’ve opened one pilot store in Holland. The concept is all around providing food in “boats.”



Ice boats

Lots of designy stuff on the site as well:

Anyone ever tried any of these foods? What do you think?

Dan writes: Edible Innovation

I recently found myself at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, where I discovered that the outdoor amusement park industry has been continuing to push the snack food envelope.

I’ll start with my personal favorite:

Deep Fried Twinkies

Hey, and if you can deep fry a Twinkie, why not . . .

Deep Fried Cheesecake

Treat someone who’s named you as the beneficiary on their life insurance policy to a couple of those!

And then, there’s the cutting edge in frozen dessert:

Dippin’ Dots, the Ice Cream of the Future

It may be hard to imagine if you haven’t experienced it yourself, but these are tiny dot-sized balls of ice cream, served in a cup.

Call me old-fashioned, but amidst all this Food 2.0, I was heartened to see an old favorite still going strong.

Mom’s Quality Correspondents at McDonald’s

Last year McDonald’s set up a panel of high-profile over-achieving moms. Their latest version appears to be drawing from the ranks of the everyday customer.

In a bid to convince health-conscious moms that its food is nutritious, McDonald’s says it will bring the group of mothers fully inside the company. The moms will visit restaurants, processing plants, orchards and test kitchens.

Beginning June 20, the moms will keep an online journal for roughly three months about what they see – and how they feel about it. The journal will be posted on the McDonald’s website and, the company hopes, read by other moms. McDonald’s insists it will have no input on what the women write.

McDonald’s dubbed the program Mom’s Quality Correspondents. The moms were picked from 4,000 applicants by Arc Worldwide, a promotions specialist.

They aren’t being paid, though McDonald’s pays for their travel. They got laptop computers for the program that they will be allowed to keep.

The women will be journaling – not blogging – says Starmann, meaning consumer responses to their comments will not be posted on the site. But the six mothers are free to respond to consumers or to post comments on other blogs, she says. They also will appear in videos at

Does Your Brand Fit the Pattern?

This post from Own Your Brand! reminded me of my Spin/brand riff earlier today.

Knowing all this, I’m still puzzling on the pieces of a pattern I experienced last night at a local Taco Johns.

As I entered the establishment (“restaurant” seems a bit overstated for a fast-food place), a young man appeared to be walking out. Then I realized he was in a Taco Johns uniform and he wasn’t walking out, he was opening the door for me. I was actually being greeted and welcomed into a fast-food joint. That has got to be a first!

I felt my “fast-food pattern” breaking and a new one taking its place. Cool.

Since it was “Taco Tuesday” I was ordering for my whole family at home. It’s a large tribe made up for four generations, but I digress. They love their taco sauce, so I was instructed to ask for extra hot and mild sauce which I did. I always ask for extra hot and mild sauce – that’s my pattern.

Now, the last piece of my puzzling pattern encounter – after the “warm and fuzzy” door opening, warm greeting, hospitality experience, when I’d returned home, I discovered they forgot the to include any hot and mild sauce. They always do, unless I remind one more time when I pick up my order. So much for the new pattern – back to old reliable.

McDonald’s unveils panel for food advice

When PR masquerades as customer-centricity:

McDonald’s announced a Global Moms Panel to provide guidance on such topics as balanced and active lifestyle initiatives, restaurant communications and children’s well-being.

The nine women will serve one-year terms on the panel. The company said it wants their input in order to better serve the needs of moms and families worldwide.

‘We want to become the best ally we can for moms and a true partner in the well-being of families everywhere,’ said Mary Dillon, McDonald’s global chief marketing officer.

On this panel is:
U.S. Olympic speedskater Bonnie Blair
Italian Olympic cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo
Christa Kinshofer, an Olympic skier and author from Germany
Gao Min, an Olympic diving champion and author from China
Keddie Bailey, a full-time mother from England
Michele Borba, a childhood development expert and author
Maru Botana, a chef and TV cooking-show personality from Argentina
Laura Lopez Cano, a Latina artist
Kim Carter, a librarian and Parent Teacher Association president

McDonald’s should realize that “soccer man” doesn’t refer to soccer stars!

It’s potentially a great initiative, but I’m reminded of when Ah-nold was the Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. It’s not like his own personal experience with health was representative of the people the gov’t was trying to reach. He was a lead user. So are these women.

McDonald’s is being disingenuous by corralling a high-powered bunch of global supermoms and then claiming they are going to stay in touch with the needs of their real-people customers. One is PR/lobbying/advocacy, and the other is about reaching out to real ordinary people.

Renovating Ronald Redux

The McDonald’s redesign is getting some more attention in blogland. A really powerful rant (even if you don’t support all the points) comes from the consistently acerbic Marginal Utility

So having abetted the atomization of American society, undermining traditional rituals of eating that once fostered polite society and turning food into on-the-go fuel, McDonald’s now wants to present the simulacrum of what it helped destroy, an ambiotronic environment in which the semblance of civility is exhibited for maximum marketing appeal. It wants to cater to the illusion that people have time to hang out, that people enjoy being in public with strangers, that its own food is something to be savored rather than inhaled on the run. The corporation can subsidize a few people hogging the comfy chairs and watching the TVs in order to give its bread-and-butter customers – the harried single people in a hurry – a warm, fuzzy feeling about what they are about to eat, as if a Big Mac can give them access to the laid-back linger-zone life by proxy. But most people, McDonald’s knows, don’t really want to linger. Rest assured, regardless of the redesign, the heart of McDonald’s will remain as hard a plastic as ever.

Renovating Ronald

BusinessWeek writes about a just-launching redesign of McDonald’s stores, trying to bring them up to date. This is sure to be a big design story in the business press, with lots of oohing and aahing about the furniture and so on, but the article points to some serious business challenges that the company faces here (and presumably anytime they want to do some sort of reinvention).

In a recent letter to management at the company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, about 160 franchisees from North Carolina spelled out why they oppose the new plan. They say the roof change erases 40 years of brand building and that ‘there has been no business case presented which justifies the change.’ Says Frederick Huebner, who owns 11 McDonald’s in North Carolina: ‘We don’t want to lose the iconic look of what we’ve got.’ If franchisees balk, McDonald’s can refuse to renew their contract.

Check out the new designs, which seem to bring McDonald’s firmly into the 90s.

Eating Timbits in Afghanistan

Tracing the roots of a Canadian icon

Wendy’s International Inc. is expected to spin -off a 15-per-cent stake in Tim Hortons this week, and curious observers are watching to see how many of the shares will land in Canadian hands.

The stock will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange, but the vast bulk of Tim Hortons’s coffee sales still occur north of the border, where the chain has strong roots.

Tim Hortons now has about 2,597 outlets north of the border and 288 in the U.S.

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan cheered when they learned that Tim Hortons is opening an outlet in Kandahar.

Hmm. Eating Timbits in Afghanistan? A new book idea!

HARVEY’S HAMBURGERS – a healthy lunch?

Harvey’s, a Canadian hamburger chain, has a pretty interesting combo deal. Order the sandwhich of your choice, and choose a side and a drink. Sides include onion rings and fries, of course, but also chips, and a salad. Drinks include soda pop, but also orange juice, or water. So you can order a burger, a salad (with dressing on the side), and a bottled water for the same price as a burger with fries and a Coke.

If you’re going to order a burger, it’s nice not to compound that with the other stuff, but I honestly wonder about the economics of this. Doesn’t a pop cost cents, at most (isn’t it highly subsidized by the Pepsi or Coke people?), versus a bottled water or Minute Maid juice? And even a salad that is mostly lettuce still appears to be handmade at some production facility, presumably at significantly greater cost than fries?

I know the fast food chains are all dealing with the obesity issue, at least in terms of PR, but this seems like the most encouraging and intriguing food offering I’d seen to date.

FreshMeat #3: We Love To See You Smile

FreshMeat #3 from Steve Portigal

               (oo) Fresh                  
                \\/  Meat

Give the gift that reeks of love…give FreshMeat!
Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the cheese

Recent news reports state that McDonald’s
“now has another problem: customers turning away in
droves because they don’t like the way they are
treated…the problem could be responsible for $750
million in lost sales every year.”

Now, if this were a talk show instead of email, I could
slowly lower the paper from in front of my face, and
raise my eyebrows in a look of sardonic significance.
But we’re stuck here, aren’t we, so rather than defining
a new emoticon for the reaction one has to really obvious
news stories, let’s look a little deeper.

I don’t think any of us are surprised. Customer service
at McDonald’s (indeed, all QSR chains — Quick-Serve
Restaurants, industry jargon for “fast food”) is
terrible. If we’ve patronized those places, we know the
story. The frightening question is how can McDonald’s
seemingly just be figuring this out?

In my work, I’ve interviewed QSR staff, store managers,
regional managers, and corporate folks. The higher up
the organizational ladder you get, the less focus there
is on the customer, and the more there is on the food.
They gauge their own success by such factors as speed
(kitchens feature overhead countdown timers and alarms),
temperature, and consistency. The customer focus may be
as simple as “clean.” One regional supervisor told me
that their best employees work in the kitchen. All a
counter employee has to do, they said, was be able to
count (since they handle the money).

In the space we have here, I think the point is this:
There but for the grace of God go each of us. Every
company has made specific, often implicit, choices about
what to be excellent at. And neglected others. McDonald’s
chose food over customers. Now they are realizing that
they have been paying a price for that. Many
organizations never get to that point of self-awareness,
and may continue to neglect something crucial that is
holding them back. The humor in the news story comes from
the fact that we could see what McDonald’s wasn’t able
to. Have the laugh, because you deserve a break today,
but maybe we can apply the lesson here to our own

Postscript: check out “The Deep End” starring Tilda
Swinton to see a current portrayal of customer
service. Often it is played for comedy, but here
the difficulties of getting help over the phone turn
into horror.


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