The Big Mac Daddy of fast food is getting a different look — so different that regular customers may not recognize it anymore.
By 2015, some 14,000 McDonald's locations in the United States will get a miraculous McMakeover, turning them into modern, contemporary eateries with a homey inviting appearance.
Out with the old — the dominant yellows and reds, the garish arch, the fiberglass tables and the antiseptic interior. In with the new — more subtle signage, muted colors, just the suggestion of an arch, wooden tables, leather club chairs arranged in conversation areas — even flat-screen televisions and Wi-Fi.
If this sounds suspiciously like a Starbucksian transition, it should.
McDonald's has looked to Starbucks, also upgrading its stores to mark its 40th anniversary, as a model for a quick-serve eatery that can offer speedy service but also encourage customers to linger over a cup of coffee. The fast food chain is also well aware that the success of restaurants such as Panera Bread is built around different types of food offerings served in a more upscale setting.
It's a refurbishment that will cost upwards of $1 billion, a big bet by McDonald's that it can not just retain its current customers, but appeal to a whole new generation of foodies.
Max Carmona, senior director of U.S. restaurant design for McDonald's, tells USA Today that the redesign is all about simplicity. It represents a mix of ideas from updated McDonald's locations in Europe and Australia, but it also incorporates the thinking of upscale restaurants, and even brands known for clean design, like Apple.
"We're not trying to be Apple," said Carmona, "but we can be inspired by them. When you're inside an Apple store, you almost feel like you're inside an iPad — and you want to stay there. We want people to walk into McDonald's and have the same feeling."
This is more than a redesign, though. It's a strategic move by McDonald's to stay well ahead of its direct competition (like Burger King and Wendy's) and more effectively compete with fast food restaurants that are a little further up the food chain, such as Chipotle and Panera Bread.
Along with the modern decor changes, which have been in the works since 2006 and were introduced in New York in 2009, will come ever-expanding menu of food and beverage items, pushing the envelope beyond the burger-and-fries staples. The old school way of thinking — get the customer in and out as fast as you can — is being replaced with the concept of engaging the customer to sit for a spell.
But will sprucing up its decor spell an increase in sales? McDonald's thinks so. Several stores in Tampa, Florida that have been renovated are already experiencing an increase in sales in the double digits.
So next time you walk into a McDonald's, don't be surprised if it's a whole new experience. You might even want to stay a while.
[Photo and video via USA Today]