At McDonald's, a Push for Customization

Created: 11/15/2013 8:59 PM KSTP.com By: Cassie Hart

Photo: AP/Nam Y. Huh
Photo: AP/Nam Y. Huh

McDonald's is looking to give people a little more wiggle room to customize their orders, as they can at chains such as Chipotle, Five Guys and Subway.
    
The world's biggest hamburger chain says it's testing a "build-your-own burger" concept in Laguna Niguel, Calif., that lets customers pick from a variety of toppings. Its new Dollar Menu and More also features five sandwiches with different sauces and toppings. And the topic of customization came up at the company's daylong presentation for investors on Thursday.
    
"Customization represents another important opportunity for our business," said Kevin Newell, chief brand and strategy officer for the U.S.
    
In particular, Newell noted that McDonald's is equipping its kitchens with new "assembly tables" that can accommodate more ingredients. He said the tables will also help improve the speed of service, which has become an issue for McDonald's as it has expanded its menu.
    
The remarks came as McDonald's Corp., which has more than 14,000 U.S. locations, struggles to boost sales amid heightened competition and shifting eating habits. Meanwhile, the popularity of Chipotle has spurred similar concepts where customers can walk down a line dictating the ingredients they want on their orders. Five Guys Burgers and Fries is based on a made-to-order format, which allows people to customize their burgers with toppings such as grilled mushrooms and jalapeno peppers.
    
McDonald's clearly understands the attraction of customization, particularly for those in their 20s and 30s. As for the "build-your-own burger" test, the company says it's too soon to tell whether the concept would be rolled out nationally. But a similar test took place in Romeoville, Ill., last month.
    
"These tests represent just one aspect of our broader menu innovation," said Lisa McComb, a spokeswoman for McDonald's, in an emailed statement.
    
Just how far McDonald's can go in offering customization remains to be seen. Richard Adams, who runs a consulting firm for McDonald's franchisees, said that speed is the bigger issue for the chain.
    
"They're not going to do that with a lot of customization," he said. "Their growth potential has to be built on speed, not customization."

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