Friday nights were grocery shopping nights when I was little, and as me and my sister clung to and swung from the side of the trolley much to my parents’ annoyance, I knew that as they wheeled us towards the car park, no matter how irritating we were, all of us would be eagerly anticipating our fish and chip dinner that evening as our weekly family treat.
Those nights were brilliant. Greasy chips and beer battered cod in a disintegrating newpaper wrapping as we pulled ‘yucky’ faces at my mum’s styrofoam cup of mushy peas. It was a weekly tradition.
It was perfect – that was, until a building with a very large yellow M appeared in our town centre. It had toys with every children’s meal, and a warm atmosphere with no washing up required. It was McDonald’s. From the very first purple Grimace pen on a yarn necklace that I pulled out of my first ever Happy Meal to the Angry Birds toy sets that my boys are currently collecting, McDonald’s has been a treat for the little [and big] people in our family since the 1980’s.
Last night I was more than a little intrigued to be invited to an unusually Southern event in Portsmouth to see the evolution of McDonalds – reopened as a digital restaurant at the start of this year. After negotiating the roads of Fratton, I was greeted warmly by the franchise owner, Grant, and his team.
Grant was himself a McDonald’s crew member whilst studying at college and now owns 17 restaurants, employing 1,500 people – 120 of them at the restaurant in Fratton. I managed to get in the way of around 30 of them, all trying to do their job whilst I meddled around in the kitchen, learning how to make a Big Mac. I won’t be getting a star on my badge any time soon, but I did try to pay attention to poor Dan who was teaching me very patiently.
The restaurant interior is so fresh and vibrant – flower murals cover the walls, and technology is visible but not intrusive on the dining experience. The digital evolution is well underway, Grant tells me – and McDonald’s are so keen to improve their customers’ experiences dining with them that already over 400 restaurants have been transformed and the rest – around another 800 – are due to be completed by 2018. I was very excited to learn that our very own local McDonald’s [or Hot Donald’s, as my boys always call it] is due to be refurbished in a few weeks’ time!
Can it really make that much of a difference?
Well, yes. I couldn’t imagine what I would need to improve a fast food experience with children, but now I know. And McDonald’s have gotten it so right.
My dad – and I know you’re reading this, dad – will be delighted. My husband will be relieved – and I know I’m downright ecstatic about it. The evolution consists of several major stress-lifting pieces of equipment inside the seating area, service counter and kitchen.
Self Service Menu Boards
Here’s what this translates to for our family. No more stress at the queue behind us at the counter, or panicking at the drive through because we can’t bear the thought of all of us in that queue bumbling about. Picture: our party of fourteen all trying to decide what they want and how they want it, with nine of them all talking at the same time, a couple staying silent and getting missed at the counter altogether and the rest talking to each other, getting misheard and their order completely messed up.
With the self service board, everyone can be seated, and one at a time, or in twos, they can come and order with one person. It’s completely customisable – my dad can take the cheese off his Big Mac, put the salsa on his Chicken Legend and the mister can order without having the boys being more interested in the Happy Meal toy display than what they’re going to eat or drink.
As a follow through, once you’ve used the menu board, you can choose to be seated in a zone where table service is included – pay by card, print out the receipt, tell them which zone you’re in and take a seat. No juggling bags, babies and children at the queue before you even consider how many trips it will take and with whom to get the food to the table safely.
The tables are pretty special too – there are tablets there for customers’ use – which also means that even if your children eat at the speed of lightning, they won’t get antsy and try to escape from the
table before you’ve even bitten your New York Stack that you’ve been waiting for all week.
In the Kitchens
This part reminded me of being 7 again and having a tour of the McDonald’s kitchens with my best friend Nicola. It’s so much more well thought out – all food is made to order, which means my dad is far less of a nuisance than usual with his requests, and everyone’s food arrives together. The creation begins at one end of the station chain, and when it reaches the final stages, it’s popped down a shoot and arrives in seconds at the front of the store. The average time to prepare a burger? 55 seconds. Now that’s fast.
I’ll confess that of all the times my boys have gotten to eat at McDonald’s as an after school treat, I’ve only taken them into the restaurant to eat twice. These digital developments mean that I can safely take all three of them into the restaurant and eat with my sanity in tact – and it will make a lovely change of scenery to the back seat of the car!
We’re very excited for these new changes to take place in our own local McDonald’s – and we hope they come to a restaurant near you soon too!
This is a sponsored post, and all opinions are my own. You can read more about McDonalds here.