In association with McDonald’s
Ever since I went to McDonald’s in Exeter recently to make a Big Mac live on Twitter, (as you do), I’ve been trying to remember the first time I ever ate a McDonald’s.
I know that we didn’t have a McDonald’s in our town when I was young, but I couldn’t remember when it did open. I asked my sister Annabel, who is four years younger than me but has a much better memory. She reckons it was the early 1990s, which would have meant I was probably at least 14 or 15.
‘I remember being very excited it was opening!’ she told me. ‘I also remember the smell of the chips being so irresistible that Grandad (Eric) had taken me to the drive-thru after school once for some reason and actually asked if he could have a chip WITHOUT CUTLERY AND WHILST DRIVING.’
Our family WhatsApp group did NOT know what to do with this information. My Grandad (Eric) was not the sort of man to do anything whilst driving, let alone eat a chip.
‘MY LIFE IS A LIE,’ wrote Bee, unable to process the information.
Needless to say that I can’t remember a time when a cheeky Big Mac has not been a part of my life.
McDonald’s has changed a lot however since I used to take Bee in as a toddler.
Back in the late 90s there was a separate little kids’ area in our local McDonald’s, (that had no windows), and entertainment came in the form of a colouring sheet that you could tear off a stand by the tills, and some crayon stumps. Ordering involved ushering your kids away to find a table while you queued, and then having them run up to you every 30 seconds saying things like ‘make sure to ask about the toy,’ or ‘please can I have an apple pie?’ before scuttling away again.
Nowadays in the new digital McDonald’s restaurants kids have touchscreen computers to entertain them, some restaurants even have interactive games projected onto tables. Late 90s me would have their MIND BLOWN.
Quality wise McDonald’s is setting high standards too – burgers are 100% British and Irish beef, all their chicken products are 100% chicken breast meat and all their eggs are free range. Even waste cooking oil gets recycled and turned into biodiesel, which fuels many of its delivery lorries.
To learn more about the digital transformation that McDonald’s has undergone, I went along to visit McDonald’s in Exeter to meet franchise owner David Shawyer and find out just how far things have come.
*waves hand in front of face to make the screen go wobbly and to signify transporting you with me to Exeter*
I’d like to say that the new McDonald’s technology was all a revelation to me, but let’s be honest, I already know my way pretty well around the digital menu. ‘Welcome back Jo’ said the WiFi when I logged on.
The digital transformation begins before you even enter the store, courtesy of the McDonald’s Click and Collect app.
As well as browsing the menu and accessing all the nutritional information, the McDonald’s Click and Collect app allows you to order and pay for food in advance on a ‘click and collect’ basis. This means you have the option to look through the menu in your own time and save favourites for future orders.
When you arrive at the restaurant, you just need to scan the code generated by the app near the entrance to check in and your food will be on its way.
Picture yourself now – you’re at work, it’s about 11am so obviously you’ve eaten your packed lunch already, and you’re starving. Your boss isn’t around, so you take five minutes to have a casual browse of the McDonald’s menu. Before you know it you’ve got a cheeseburger and medium fries waiting for collection.
Pretty cool right? Some restaurants are now even offering delivery through UberEATS, which would be very exciting for me if it made it as far as Taunton.
Alternatively you can make use of the self-serving kiosks in the restaurants. Simple and quick to use, they give you the chance to take a bit more time over your order and customise choices without feeling under pressure from the queue at the tills.
This is ideal for me as I tend to panic if I get the counter and feel under pressure. There have been many occasions, as my family will tell you, that I’ve ended up overwhelmed and ordering a Filet-O-Fish.
Don’t get me wrong, a Filet-O-Fish is always nice, but they’re never quite what I MEAN to get.
(It’s a bit like when I was young and used to go out later than 10pm. When I got to the bar I’d get all in a fluster and end up with something like peach schnapps. I once tried to order a Baileys and milk in a nightclub.)
Digital ordering also means you can do things like choose not to have onions in your Big Mac, without having to be THAT person at the counter. No one wants to admit to being the fussy one do they?
Back in the day I remember that burgers were made in advance and stacked up ready to be picked for orders, but that’s not how it works anymore – everything is made fresh to order and this makes it much easier to customise things quickly and efficiently. The option is also now available to add cheese, bacon and tomato to certain products in the breakfast and lunch ranges for a small charge.
Fancy extra cheese in that Big Mac? (Why would you not?)
Once you’ve placed your order, you’re given an order number and can watch its progress at the collection counter. Some McDonald’s restaurants (including one of mine in Taunton) also have the option for table service, and this is coming soon to Exeter. This means that once you’ve ordered you just need to sit down and everything will be brought to your table.
It’s McDonald’s, but NOT AS YOU KNOW IT.
(I did ask about silver cutlery but apparently there are no plans for that.)
Having seen how McDonald’s has been digitally transformed for customers, it was time to go backstage. I was given my very own apron and cap, as well as a badge with my name on it. (Possibly my best bit of the whole day.) I washed my hands, feeling like a doctor about to perform life-saving surgery, and was led into the kitchen where Callum, (favourite meal – chicken selects), was waiting to show me how to make a Big Mac.
I was blown away by what a slick operation the whole thing is. You might think that being prepared to order would mean that meals would take longer to get to you, but I reckon Callum could put a Big Mac together EASILY in less than a minute. What struck me as he talked me through it was actually how simple the whole thing is. When you EAT a Big Mac, it feels like a thing of mystery and wonder, but it’s pretty straightforward ingredients – a toasted bun, onion, lettuce, cheese, and 100% British and Irish beef.
Oh, and of course the Big Mac sauce, which comes in a GUN.
I managed to resist the urge to fire it at Callum, but I did NOT resist the urge to pose like James Bond.
I was ready for action.
Once Callum had walked me through the Big Mac production process it was time for me to have a go. To ramp up the pressure, we did it LIVE ON TWITTER. If you didn’t catch it first time round, or just fancy watching it again because it was SO interesting and informative, then you can watch it here.
We also made a short video on the day so you can get to see some of the new McDonald’s technology in action, plus get the answers to some important, probing questions, like is it a FiLAY-O-Fish or a FilLET-O-Fish.
You also get to see me in a hairnet, which is surely the highlight of anyone’s day?
Please have a watch now:
Thanks to Puzzlewriter for support with video production.
If he were alive today, I wonder what Grandad (Eric) would make of it all? I suspect he’d find it all a bit baffling, although I can see the table service being something he’d approve of.
Although a lot has changed in McDonald’s since my sister’s first drive-thru, the smell of the fries and the unmatchable satisfaction of biting into a Big Mac definitely hasn’t. I’m pretty sure I’ll still be eating in McDonald’s years from now, when I’m inevitably being served by robot dogs on hover boards.
Thanks to McDonald’s and to David Shawyer for inviting me to visit David’s restaurant in Exeter and for letting me loose with the Big Mac sauce gun! Find out more about digital innovations at McDonald’s here.