The Problems With McDonalds

An Analysis

By Alvin Mason

June 28 2016

McDonald’s restaurants, a fast food establishment with historical significance in American Food Service history, has recently incurred slowed growth and slumping sales that include sales of continuing operating units. Some concerns are not problematic, and most of the problems can be corrected.

First let us give credit to some of McDonald’s innovations. After being a hamburger establishment, McDonald’s introduced a good quality filet of fish sandwich. The kid’s meal was also a winner. The introduction of breakfast was a great way to maximize the use of the existing utility (the building) and increase business. Most recently the café was a great way to allow people to enjoy a coffee drink at a modest price.

We should also credit McDonald’s for the ability to compete and withstand competition. Since McDonald’s became well known, many other national and regional hamburger chains have attempted to compete with McDonald’s only to be bought out, reorganized, or go out of business. Some of those businesses include but are not limited to:

  1. Burger Chef
  2. Hot Shop Junior
  3. Gino’s
  4. Roy Rodgers

As I write this analysis, I do so with a heavy heart. I am thankful for McDonald’s and my love for McDonald’s started in the 1960’s. I remember the Jingle in the commercials. It went like this, “…drive in to McDonalds for 45 cents you get a 3 course meal”.

I remember the hard times (in this century) when I could eat breakfast for less than 3 dollars. I could eat lunch off the dollar menu (a double cheeseburger, small fry and a soda for 3 dollars plus tax). On many a day, my energy and nutrition from food was from meals purchased at McDonald’s.

But my appreciation of McDonald’s has turned to disappointment!

First let me discuss service. I am talking about overall service. A customer comes to a food service establishment expecting to get the following:

  1. A good quality meal
  2. With good courteous service
  3. Receiving their order in a timely manner
  4. Having the order filled accurately
  5. In a clean environment

Unfortunately many times McDonald’s fails in some, and too often all of these expectations. So today, the prudent person goes somewhere else, even if they pay a little more. Thus many of McDonald’s returning customers have lower expectations and sometimes just don’t care about the lower standards of service.

Some of McDonalds other problems include:

  1. Hiring and training of managers and crew members
  2. Shift Managers (crew leaders)
  3. Projection (especially French Fries)
  4. Use of Microwave

I will discuss each problem area in depth.

The Hiring and Training of Managers and Crew Members

Once all manager trainees attended McDonald’s Hamburger College sometime in their training. When McDonald’s was younger (1960’s) and could offer unlimited growth potential, the talent pool of managerial candidates was so good McDonald’s was able to be selective. Today with various opportunities in food service, which include opportunities in family restaurants and fine dining, the pool of applicants is not as good as in the past.

The reality is that being a fast food Assistant Manager in an organization with limited growth potential is a pit stop in the career of talented managerial candidates. Understand that people have to pay the bills. A job does not stop an ambitious person from dreaming. A job becomes a means to an end. A person pays their bills keeping their credit rating passable by meeting their responsibilities as they wait for a better opportunity.

Of course in the initial interview when asked, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years”? The applicant knows to respond: “I see myself in upper management within this company”. As the realization of probably never being promoted to a Store Manager position in a reasonable time (for various reasons, which could include favoritism, a poor evaluation system or just a lack of growth) sets in the assistant manager would probably use their management expertise gained with the experience in the current organization to be recruited by a competitor (who might be the new kid on the block), who would value their food service experience.

My first suggestion is that McDonald’s offer as a benefit the opportunity to be financed for a single franchised unit should the manager complete 10 years. Many organizations offer incentives for their employee’s, one such being assistance with repaying student loans.

Such a plan for managers would upgrade the talent pool and decrease the turnover rate. McDonald’s does not need to sell anymore franchises unless it is to a person who works at McDonald’s. Too often franchises are poorly run. As a matter of fact McDonald’s should force some of the worst performing franchisees to sell back their franchise.

Part of McDonald’s plan for improvement has to incorporate standards! The biggest benefit to McDonald’s corporate image would come from improved service. Individual franchises owned and operated by experienced former McDonald’s corporate managers would improve consistency as McDonald’s core concepts would be followed simply because the owner/operator would hire and train the staff.

I don’t know what the training for McDonald’s managers is today, but I can tell you it seems inadequate. Many times I have been in McDonald’s and seen managers who were not leading. Service was slow. The parking lot was dirty, the dining room was dirty and the restrooms looked as if they had not been attended to for hours.

The hiring and training of crew members to include the crews execution of service, is a direct reflection of the restaurant manager and the corporation. Too many times the managers at McDonald’s hire members of their ethnic group without training them adequately and offering and/or encouraging English tutoring.

The training of the crew should be emphasized at the cash register position, which is the point of sale (POS) and the initial point of customer contact.

There have been many times when the person on the register had absolutely no customer awareness or customer urgency. The person on the register should always greet customers. The register person should also acknowledge people waiting. The inside register person should always say:

  1. “Hello”
  2. “How are you?”
  3. “Thank you for waiting” (when applicable)
  4. “May I take your order”

When a customer only orders one thing that does not have to be made, such as a soft drink or desert, then the register person should complete that order to include taking it off the screen, while telling the next customer, “I will be with you in a few seconds”.

The training of people to run the cash register and take orders should always be done by a manager.

The person on the register should be proficient in English. In areas where there is a high concentration of people from other cultures, at least one person on the register should be bilingual. A bilingual worker should be paid a premium salary (at least $10 an hour).

Understand that being bilingual is a needed talent. Many organizations within and outside the food service industry, hire bilingual individuals for management positions. Unfortunately many of those organizations don’t teach institutional knowledge to their bilingual managers.

Let’s be honest. As I briefly discussed before many of McDonald’s crew members speak English as a second language. That is fine, especially if your objective is to pay low wages. However training a person who speaks little or no English requires a person who is bilingual. The training person should not only be bilingual but they should also buy into McDonald’s standards.

Another suggestion would be that a crew member who speaks limited English should be offered English classes at no cost to them in cooperation with the Food Service Union. Classes should be offered day and night to fit the workers free time. In addition such benefits as half pay for attendance in a voluntary class should be examined. The Food Service Union of course should be criticized for not doing enough to prepare their members for meaningful employment.

Training today has evolved into watching videos. Every McDonald’s unit should have a training manager who is specifically charged with training crew members in proper concepts and techniques. Of course it is cheaper to use videos to train instead of having a training manager. But the effectiveness of hands on training and the reinforcement that one-on-one training delivers using an in person human trainer is not measured.

A new hire should never be trained by another crew member unless that crew member has some type of McDonald’s certified training credential.

The manager on duty should always be aware of what is happening on their shift (store awareness), and corrective measures should be taken in such a way that customers are not aware of the corrective action.

Shift Managers and Crew Leaders

Years ago restaurants always had a manager on duty. Many times he/she would be hired as a manager trainee. After completion of a training program which many times included an out of town seminar, the trainee would be promoted to assistant manager. The manager and/or one of the assistant managers would be on duty for every shift during the restaurants operation.

Today many fast food restaurants have crew leaders or shift managers. Too many times this concept is used to save many. In essence a crew leader or shift manager has the authority of an assistant manager but not the salary.

When a crew leader runs a shift, many times a teenager is running the restaurant. If the crew leader has the knowledge and leadership skills to run the restaurant, then he or she should be an assistant manager. No restaurant or any business for that matter should be open to the public and use cost saving measures such as a crew leader instead of an assistant manager, which could negatively affect the customers experience.

Remember as discussed earlier that a customer has 5 expectations when visiting a food establishment. Once again they are quality, courteous service, timeliness, accuracy, and cleanliness. Can a crew leader run a shift and guarantee the restaurant meets these 5 requirements? If so then that crew leader should be an assistant manager.


When McDonald’s first became nationally popular and when I became a regular customer (the 1960’s), a manager was always out front instructing workers at the various stations. As a customer you could hear the manager instruct how many of a particular burger to prepare or when to drop a basket of fries. Let me note that when I first became a regular McDonald’s customer, fresh potatoes were peeled and cut in store. The manager was positioned so they could see an approaching bus. The manager could foresee that the restaurant would get busy and in an attempt to offer fast service the manager would instruct the staff to prepare the food. This is called projection.

The art of projecting is important especially for McDonald’s. McDonald’s French Fries (FF), are a classic. People will chose McDonald’s because of the FF. When McDonald’s FF are prepared and served properly, they are arguably the best FF anywhere. The FF are so good you don’t need ketchup.

I fondly remember ordering food to take home and purchasing an extra order of FF to eat on the way. The FF were hot which kept one from eating them all.

However, too many times McDonald’s customers are disappointed because the FF are not right. There are times when a customer’s FF are luke warm or cold. This comes from dropping too many basket of fries or not projecting. Then there are times when the FF station is behind and a basket of FF is pulled up to early, so people are eating FF that are undercooked.

There was a time when the FF station was covered or manned by 1 person. That person’s responsibility included filling the baskets with potatoes at the proper amount about ½ full. Watch the customer flow and be in communication with the manager. When projection called for FF in a few minutes, the person at the FF station would drop a basket or baskets depending on projected needs and press the timing button. When the buzzer sounds the FF station attendant would pick up the basket let the FF drain for a short period and lightly salt the FF. When a customer purchases FF that are prepared properly, the FF are served hot and are delicious.

When a person purchases FF which are not properly prepared, then that customer’s visit was not as positive as it should have been. As I said before, many times people visit McDonald’s in whole or in part to get the FF. McDonalds should make every effort to insure that all food purchased is warm (hot for FF) and has the proper consistency.

Use of the Microwave

Years ago McDonalds would put the finished burgers in a holding bin. This was another aspect of projection. The holding bin would keep burgers warm and at the proper consistency, provided the projection was accurate. Projection could be short as new burgers could be finished in a matter of minutes. When over projection occurred then some burgers would be discarded as the holding time expired.

Several years ago this system was changed for burgers. Now burgers are cooked and kept in a holding bin while the buns are kept in a separate warmer. The cheese is kept in a cold bin. The condiments are applied by an automated system and the pickles are put on every burger by hand. When a person orders a burger the sandwich is microwaved and then assembled.

The problem with microwaving a burger is the process of microwaving. The microwave heats a food item very fast, but the downside is that the item also cools very quickly. Thus the burgers McDonalds serves become cold or lukewarm at best when being eaten. Microwaving can also alter food consistency.

Remember, customers expect a hot quality meal. Whenever the meal is not hot and the quality not good then the customer’s experience has something left to be desired.

My recommendation is that McDonalds either change their preparation method from using microwaves and consider going back to projecting, how much of what item to cook. An alternative to a complete changeover would be to put microwaves in the dining rooms, so customers can reheat their cold food. Instructions at the microwave should include removing the lettuce and tomato before heating, microwaving only 10 seconds at a time, and a caution against putting reflective food wrappers in the microwave ovens. Another alternative would be to let a fulltime dining room attendant reheat a burger. This person would have to be trained in the use of a microwave.

If a person visits McDonalds and the sandwich is cold and the FF are not right, will they go back? There are far too many competitors in the Hamburger business for McDonald’s to let their guard down.

Recent Changes

McDonald’s Chief Executive Officer resigned effective March 2015. Poor performance was the reason. Under new leadership McDonald’s will try new innovations.

Recently McDonald’s went to all day breakfast on selected breakfast menu items. In my opinion breakfast started too late (6am at the 24 hour locations) and ended too early on Saturday and Sunday (11am). Breakfast should have started at 4am and on Saturday and Sunday ended at 1pm.

If 24 hour breakfast negatively affects McDonald’s service during the lunch and Dinner rush and/or if sales don’t increase with the 24 hour breakfast availability, then McDonald’s needs to ask if 24 hour breakfast was the answer.

Understand that McDonald’s roots are the burger business. 24 hour breakfast should not affect the quality, service, or expediency of the burger business. Always remember the making of McDonald’s was burgers and fries. Breakfast was a brilliant way of maximizing the restaurants capacity and profitability. In no way should breakfast affect your Burger Business.

McDonalds you need to identify, “who you are”. It should be a fast food burger restaurant.


As part of emphasizing breakfast, why doesn’t McDonald’s offer a turkey sausage biscuit? Two major religions generally don’t eat pork. The chicken used in the breakfast is not as good as a turkey sausage would be. A chicken patty as an alternative should not be forced on the customer. Turkey sausage should be a menu item. Many of your breakfast competitors offer turkey sausage.

I also suggest that you go back to projecting and minimize the use of the microwave. When a customer can order and receive a hot quality meal in a timely fashion, at an inexpensive price then the customer will be satisfied.

I already suggested single franchises for tenured managers and no more selling multiple franchises to individuals or groups with no prior McDonald’s management experience.

Look at your competitors. Do you see how Hardee’s has repositioned? The better burger and service gives one the impression that Hardee’s is upscale. Let me pose this question. If you wanted a burger and you could choose between McDonald’s and Steak and Shake, where would you eat? The price difference is not that much. There are other competitors such as Shake Shack and new competitors starting every year. That is because McDonalds left the door open.

If McDonalds really wants to bring people back, than McDonalds should go organic. McDonalds has enough business to have their own organic farms and/or could make arraignments with organic beef farmers. The beef for the burgers, the milk and the ingredients for milkshakes should be organic. Organic with only a moderate price increase would reestablish McDonald’s as the leader and innovator in the fast food industry. Immediately competitors would copy cat out of necessity. Going organic would revolutionize the food industry.

One of the knocks on McDonald’s, or “word on the street is”, McDonald’s quality is subpar. Many people say they can’t or won ‘t eat at McDonald’s. Going organic would end some of the negative goodwill poor performance created.

It is time for McDonald’s to re-establish itself. Using some of my suggestions would allow McDonald’s the opportunity to please the curious and long lost returning customer.

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