Thursday, May 11

The New and Improved McDonalds

A comfortable armchair. Cool hanging lights. Funky graphics and photos on the walls. Wi-Fi access. Premium coffee. Isn't Starbucks great? Except...this is McDonald's. McDonald's (MCD)? That's right. After 30 years without a major design overhaul, the 51-year-old fast-food giant is adopting a hip new look. The world's largest hamburger chain is redesigning its 30,000 eateries around the globe in a 21st century makeover of unprecedented scale.

The redesign is risky and has many franchisees up in arms over the high costs of a makeover. But company officials believe the overhaul is needed. McDonald's, whose restaurants are visited by more than 40 million people every day, has moved aggressively over the past three years to revamp its menu and attract a new breed of customer. It has added healthier items like premium salads targeted at women, and apple slices and skim milk for children. But as more upscale items like Asian chicken salad show up on its menu, the chain's typical starkly lit, plastic-heavy look is at odds with the contemporary, welcoming image the company wants to present. "McDonald's promises to be a 'forever young' brand," says John Miologos, vice-president of worldwide architecture, design, and construction at McDonald's Corp. "We have to deliver on that promise." The last major change at McDonald's restaurants was the introduction of play places for children in the early 1980s.

What will the new McDonald's look like? "Think iPod: clean lines, simplicity," says Miologos. They say, the big red roof looks too dated today. It's being replaced by a flat roof topped by a newly designed, contemporary, golden sloping curve. Ronald McDonald appears safe: The mascot was given a leaner, sportier look just last year. And the iconic twin golden arches will still play a big role in the branding.

Right now, only 20 recently opened restaurants in the U.S. sport the makeover in its entirety. Another 20, primarily in Tulsa, Okla. and Columbus, Ohio, have been completely remodeled. All brand-new restaurants will have to hew to the redesign blueprints, and by the end of 2006, more than half of the 13,720 U.S. restaurants will feature some element of the design.

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