In today’s Amazon world of push-the-button-and-get-it-now, fast-food giant McDonald’s is asking customers to cool their heels for a single extra minute. That’s what it will take to cook its fresh-beef quarter-pounder designed to woo back millions of customers that had left the Golden Arches for other fast-casual dining options.
Some McDonald’s customers may refuse to wait, according to a report by Reuters, highlighting the trade-off in today’s consumer society, where mobile disruptive technology is pressuring providers of everything from groceries to Uber to news reports to meet “I want it yesterday” customer demands without sacrificing quality.
“There’s no question that in today’s society, customers want what they want, when they want it,” said Sam Oches, editorial director at QSR, a trade publication for the quick service restaurant industry. “That has especially trickled down into food, where if a customer can’t get what they want and when they want it at one restaurant, they have another option where they can.”
McDonald’s stock raced toward an all-time high Monday. Wall Street reacted to the news that the burger giant was upgrading its technology, including kiosks, to meet on-demand orders.
The company’s chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, took over two years ago with a goal of reviving sales through fresher, higher-quality offerings and round-the-clock availability of its popular breakfast menu.
The quarter-pound sandwiches, which have anchored the McDonald’s menu for decades, are being upgraded in test markets as part of the fast-food giant’s attempt to raise its quality in the highly competitive burger sector.
Previous quarter-pounders were precooked from frozen patties. The new ones are fresh and made to order and will be in restaurants next year.
Speed is of the essence. McDonald’s earns 70 percent of its revenue at its drive-through window. According to Oches, the average wait for a drive-through McDonald’s customers from when they order to when they get their food has been clocked at about 208 seconds, which is on the slightly slower end of the spectrum. Wendy’s once reached a record low of 116, he said, and Starbucks has been clocked as high as 300 seconds.
As the demands for ever-faster service collide with expectations of quality, some things must give.
“People expect instant gratification,” said Alexander Chernev, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “But there must be a fundamental trade-off. It is difficult to have good products and service infinitely fast. Even at Amazon, we order stuff and don’t expect it five minutes later.”
Chernev said that although some customers at McDonald’s won’t be willing to wait for the quarter-pounder, those people probably will choose other menu items instead. And customers who had left the chain for a higher-quality burger may start returning for the new quarter-pounder, offsetting some loss in traffic.
Jim Plamondon, who owns 54 Roy Rogers restaurants in six states, said his customers are less speed-conscious than rival McDonald’s. About 50 percent come through the drive-through compared with McDonald’s 70 percent and more.
He said many of his customers are more concerned with quality than with efficiency as they spend time at the popular “fixings bar,” where they can dress their burgers or sandwiches the way they desire.
“I don’t know if people are less patient,” Plamondon said. “Some millennials are willing to forget the personal experience to get their service, whether it be a hotel room or food from a kiosk.”