McDonald’s Tests Simpler Version of Custom-Sandwich Program

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Create Your Taste
Tom and Cindy Voosen of Wesley Chapel use a touch screen kiosk to order a hamburger at the McDonald's on SR 54 near I-75. Photographer: James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times via AP Photo

McDonald’s Corp. is testing a simpler version of its Create Your Taste program that lets customers customize their burgers with fewer options, an attempt to streamline the system so it works better at the drive-thru.

McDonald’s restaurants along California’s central coast are promoting the program, called TasteCrafted, using Twitter and a dedicated website. Locations around Atlanta and Portland, Oregon, also are trying it, said Lisa McComb, a spokeswoman for the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company.

“Customers will be able to customize their burger or chicken sandwich with their choice of bun and topping combinations, including bacon clubhouse, pico guacamole, hot jalapeno and deluxe,” she said. The idea is to “quickly introduce more choice to our customers as we work toward greater customization.”

The move also could help the company satisfy demand for custom options without overwhelming drive-thru windows, said Mark Kalinowski, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC. That’s key because 60 percent of McDonald’s U.S. business comes from the drive-thru, he said. The Create Your Taste system -- still in a trial phase itself -- uses touch screens to let customers choose different buns, toppings and cheeses on burgers and chicken sandwiches. The program, currently being tested in about 30 restaurants, requires people to come inside to order.

Cheaper Investment

TasteCrafted also may be a lower-cost investment for franchisees and could be rolled out much more quickly, said Kalinowski, who has a neutral rating on McDonald’s. He estimates that about 25 to 30 restaurants in California are testing the system, along with as many as seven locations in Oregon. The fast-food giant is slated to give more details of a turnaround plan on May 4.

In a survey released earlier this month, Kalinowski found that the relationship between McDonald’s and its franchisees was the worst it’s been in more than a decade. Part of the tension is the price of implementing Create Your Taste, which is expected to cost more than $100,000 per restaurant.

Create Your Taste started last year in a handful of restaurants in Southern California. At the time, McDonald’s said the plan was to expand the test to 2,000 restaurants by the end of 2015. As McDonald’s extends Create Your Taste to more restaurants, the new TasteCrafted platform is a “more immediate opportunity for a broader base of restaurants to provide customers with the variety and choices they enjoy today,” McComb said.

Chipotle Competition

McDonald’s is trying to get its menu right after facing six straight quarters of declining U.S. same-store sales. Customizable food may bring back some diners who have defected to chains where they can create their own meals, such as at Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.

On Tuesday, McDonald’s said it was getting rid of seven sandwiches in a bid to simplify its menu and speed up kitchen operations. The fast-food chain is trying a range of approaches to let diners build their own meals, Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook said on a conference call last week.

“We have a number of other ways that we can perhaps customize our menu or personalize our menu that we’re also working on,” he said.

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