Posts tagged “qsr”

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?

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

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.

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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