Amid Lagging Sales, McDonald's to Expand Build-Your-Own-Burger Program

McDonald's hamburger.

Over the past year or so, McDonald's has been quietly rolling out an experimental system that lets customers customize their burger's toppings, bun, and condiments by touch screen. So far, it's only been available in a few stores in southern California, but the burger chain's recent sales slump could compel it to expand the program to a location near you.

At two San Diego-area McDonald's restaurants, customers can order toppings like guacamole, grilled mushrooms, and garlic aioli, as well as choose from a selection of cheeses and "artisan" buns. It's an attempt to keep pace with the modern wave of fast casual-style restaurants like Chipotle and Five Guys, which emphasize customization over convenience as customers walk along an assembly line, choosing their ingredients as they go."McDonald's sales are declining, so they're looking for another way to generate revenues and reach a different crowd," Joel Cohen, president of the Cohen Restaurant Marketing Group, told the Chicago Tribune.

August found McDonald's in its worst sales decline since 2003, with sales at stores open at least 13 months dropping by 3.7 percent. They were also hit hard by a food scare with a Chinese meat supplier; sales in Japan plummeted nearly 26 percent.

The build-a-burger effort, though, may be an attempt to reach out to the younger, Millennial-age customers the chain has been losing in recent years (among 19- to 21-year-olds, the Wall Street Journal has reported a 12.9 percent drop since 2011). But as it refocuses on customization, McDonald's also risks bogging down their kitchens with indecisive customers or confused workers--an issue that plagued Burger King when it introduced numerous new items in rapid succession.

"I'm just wondering if they're forgetting about their strengths, which are speed and convenience," said Cohen. "What's going to be too long when you customize a burger, and is that going to upset a lot of customers?"

Perhaps that's a question you'll soon be pondering yourself, as you wait to tap out your order by touchscreen.
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