For years, adoring fans have pleaded with McDonald's to extend its breakfast menu beyond the current 10:30 a.m. cutoff. For just as long, the fast food behemoth has shrugged off the ask, saying it doesn't have the capacity to make breakfast and everything else at the same time. Flipping burgers and frying eggs, they have sighed seemingly every month, is simply too tall a task for the more than 14,000 restaurants around the United States.
But finally Americans are getting their wish.
Amid a several year-long slowdown, which has forced the international hamburger giant to downsize in its largest market, and a furious rise in competition, which has seen companies like Chipotle grow into formidable combatants in the fast food space, McDonald's has decided that it can no longer afford to ignore its customers.
All-day breakfast, which the chain has been testing since earlier this year, will be available at McDonald's starting on Oct. 6. The move, which was approved by franchisees last week, will extend to every McDonald's in the United States. It won't include the entirety of the breakfast menu, but it will cover the favorites: sausage burritos and hot cakes will be available everywhere, and Egg McMuffins or biscuit sandwiches will be served, depending on the location.
"This is the consumers’ idea. This is what they want us to do," Mike Andres, McDonald’s USA President, told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. "That’s why I think this could be the catalyst for our turnaround."
The announcement is a big deal, mostly because it marks a certain point of desperation for McDonald's. The past few years have been a difficult stretch for the chain, which stopped sharing monthly performance data because it had been so long since the company had reported anything even vaguely positive. Given McDonald's reluctance over the years to introduce all-day breakfast, the news is a sign that it can no longer afford to be so risk averse. Rather, the chain is now throwing darts at the wall, hoping that something sticks.
For a time, McDonald's relied on conventional extensions of its menu, offering salads, wraps, and other healthier fare. Recently, the burger chain has shifted to a strategy that amounts to mimicking the increasingly popular fast casual sector. McDonald's now makes burgers to order, and offers a range of fancier ingredients, like jalapeños, guacamole, and brioche buns.
But neither of these strategies has worked. The former backfired, because people visit cheap burger chains for a respite from their (hopefully) healthier dietary regimen, not another reminder that they could be eating something healthier. The latter only further highlights the chain's inadequacies. McDonald's new competition—the Chipotles and Shake Shacks of the fast food world—are buoyed, at least in part, by their association with meaningful trends in the food world that prioritize good food over cheap food.
One of McDonald's biggest follies has been its inability to look itself squarely in the mirror, to understand that it is, or at least should be, what its fans adore it for most: a place that serves hamburgers, french fries, chicken nuggets, and an exceedingly popular breakfast menu.
What McDonald's needs is to simply embrace that on a broader scale, and breakfast might be the best option.
There will be obstacles, of course. The chain was reluctant to introduce all-day breakfast for good reasons. Equipment will need to be changed at restaurants in order to accommodate the extra meal. New toasters, for instance, will be needed to prepare both hamburger buns and English muffins at the same time. Separate grills for eggs will also be bought so as to ensure that no hamburgers come into contact with raw eggs.
But by allowing patrons to order Egg McMuffins well into the day and night, McDonald's will be able to double down on the fastest-growing segment in the business—between 2007 and 2012, breakfast was responsible for more than 90 percent of all growth in the industry. The meal, which accounts for roughly 25 percent of sales but has, up to now, only been offered for a small fraction of the day, has already proven lucrative.
It will also help distinguish McDonald's from it's competition. Where Chipotle has etched out its territory with burritos, McDonald's can now make its mark with breakfast. And that could make all the difference.