McDonald’s needs to focus on its core business, chefs say. (Photo: iStock)
Remember the old McDonald’s slogan “You deserve a break today”? The executives running McDonald’s must be thinking just that — about themselves.
Everybody loves to pick on the fast food giant. Its board members have been called dinosaurs. Its own workers are protesting over wages. Shareholders aren’t happy, as sales are down. The introduction of the new Hamburglar character was met with jeers on social media. And analysts were unimpressed with the turnaround plan unveiled by new chief executive officer Steve Easterbrook.
His 23-minute presentation on transforming McDonald’s into a “modern, progressive burger company” was long on corporate jargon and short on one crucial element: the food.
Sure, with 1.9 million employees worldwide, more than 36,000 locations, and 69 million people served daily, there’s a lot to think about besides burgers, shakes, and fries. So Yahoo Food turned to the people who do think about food, all day long. We asked some of the chefs, bakers, and ice cream makers lauded for their creativity, thoughtful sourcing practices, and entrepreneurial spirit for input. What would they do to save McDonald’s?
Above, from the McDonald’s website, for customers curious about the fast food chain’s ingredients.
1. Get serious about sourcing.
McDonald’s has a perception problem. Many people don’t believe the items it serves are actual food. (Just look at the company’s own website. There’s a clickable box that reads, “Do you make your fries with real potatoes?”) Almost everyone interviewed mentioned sourcing as the biggest issue. “Bring in product traceability and make a big deal about it in the stores,” suggested Andrea Reusing, the chef of Lantern in Chapel Hill, N.C. Preeti Mistry, the chef of Juhu Beach Club in Oakland, Calif., would like to see McDonald’s make big changes to its supply chain. “Mandate to all their growers that they switch to organic farming methods within a three-to-five year phased process or drop them as suppliers. Create a higher level of standards for how their growers and ranchers farm.”
Shake Shack’s burger has shown food can be delicious and fast. (Photo: Getty Images)
2. Up your burger game.
Bryan Petroff, the co-founder of Big Gay Ice Cream in New York and Philadelphia (and soon Los Angeles), said it wouldn’t be an understatement to call McDonald’s burgers “vile” and that the company needs to make taste and ingredients paramount. “Put a Big Mac up against ‘Big Macs’ made by Shake Shack or In-N-Out Burger and I guarantee you that no one will pick the McDonald’s Big Mac.” A few chefs suggested organic and grass-fed options. “Higher quality ingredients and a slightly thicker patty would make a great burger,” said Kris Yenbamroong, the chef of Night + Market and Night + Market Song in L.A.
A Double Double from In-and-Out Burger. (Photo: Facebook)
3. A veggie burger is a no brainer.
Introduce an improved, protein-based version of the old McVeggie Burger. “This would be a great option for vegetarians and people trying to reduce meat in their diet,” said Mistry. “McDonald’s is sometimes the only option for people traveling or in remote areas or in a late-night pinch.” But don’t do it as an afterthought — make it delicious, said Erin McKenna, founder of Erin McKenna’s Bakery, the vegan outposts in New York, L.A., and Walt Disney World in Orlando. “Make it an item that even meat-eaters can’t resist.”
4. Focus, focus, focus.
“If Ronald McDonald and I were to sit down, the first thing I’d say to him is that he should get rid of everything that is not his core business,” said Amanda Cohen, the chef of Dirt Candy in New York. “That menu needs a trim.” Said Yenbamroong, “McDonald’s used to be known for doing a couple of things real well. Recommitting the company to those items and making them better than ever would go a long way.” They could take a note from In ‘N’ Out Burger, the wildly popular West Coast chain that officially has six things on its menu: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, french fries, milk shakes, beverages (a.k.a., soda) and the Double-Double.
The McRib has been on and off the McDonald’s menu for years. (Photo: Getty Images)
5. A few things have to go.
What to get rid of? “The McRib is particularly disturbing to me,” said Mistry. And the Artisan Grilled Chicken sandwich. “This is a menu item with no constituency,” said Reusing. “It alienates everyone.” Another item that must go: salads. “I personally don’t want a salad from McDonald’s,” said Alex Raij, the chef behind La Vara, El Quinto Pino, and Txikito in New York. Nor does Cohen, who runs a vegetarian restaurant. “You shouldn’t sell anything you can’t do well, and the things you have to do to a salad to make them portable and have a long shelf life don’t add up to a good salad,” she said. And while you’re at it, 86 the Snack Wrap. The group we interviewed particularly loathed these burger alternatives. “What else can explain why they took one fried Chicken Select, added a few pieces of the same iceberg lettuce from their sandwiches, wrapped it in corn glue—oops, I mean a tortilla—and passed it off as the thing that was going to save them?” asked Petroff. Yenbamroong seconded that. “What kind of serious burger place serves wraps?”
A McDonald’s Happy Meal, featuring apples. (AP)
7. Get healthier, but not with health food.
“They could simply make what they already serve so much better,” said Cohen. “Get the sugar out of their ketchup. Use better cheese and vegetables.” McKenna, mother to two young children, would love to see a dairy-free sundae. “The kid who’s allergic to dairy would finally be able to enjoy an ice cream instead of sitting on the side eating those apple slices.” Raij suggested sweet potato fries and dairy-free fruit shakes. Also, many said downsize instead of Super Size. “Institute rational portions and calorie counts,” said Reusing.
Brooks Headley’s cult veggie burgers. (Photo: Instagram)
7. Collaborate with smaller brands and cool food personalities.
Take a page from Shake Shack, the fast food darling of the culinary set. The mini chain works with a range of indie brands to source everything from beer to relish to dog biscuits, and it incorporates local purveyors into each location’s menu. You’ll find Rick’s Picks, Abita Brewing Co., Brooklyn Brewery, Bocce’s Bakery, Kiskadee Chocolates, South End Buttery Bakery, Mast Brothers, and others among the mix.
Shake Shack also has served up limited-edition burgers from David Chang and modernist Italian chef Massimo Bottura. McKenna thought it would be fun to see the cult veggie burger from award-winning pastry chef Brooks Headley on the menu. Why not bring some cool eats to markets without a diverse food scene?
8. No pressure, but make the world a better place.
“McDonald’s is everywhere, which is its biggest problem and its biggest strength,” said Cohen. “It has fabulous economies of scale, but it also has to be all things to all people and that’s hard. Their biggest strength, though, is their potential to do good.“ With some of the changes above, plus a bigger focus on the well-being of its staff, customers, and the neighborhoods in which it does business, people would view the fast food chain in a very different way. "McDonald’s is in a position to change the world if they wanted, and it wouldn’t be hard.”
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