Just outside its wooded headquarters campus, McDonald's Corp is offering sneak previews of its fast-food future.
Now playing at its new flagship restaurant: Digital-media kiosks for burning CDs, downloading cellphone ring tones and printing photos. Dozens of plasma-screen TVs. WiFi Internet access. New chicken sandwiches. Double-lane drivethrus. And an adjoining McCafe with gourmet coffees, fancy pastries and a fireplace.
Coming soon: Other menu items and concepts not yet released to a general audience.
Don't expect Starbucks-like makeovers like this one at the 13,600 US McDonald's, or 30,000-plus worldwide; the Oak Brook restaurant, which opened late last month, doubles as public restaurant and test site. But the world's largest restaurant chain is tinkering with various possibilities in technology and design to try to ensure it is a hangout of choice in the future.
"It's unlikely you'll see this exact restaurant replicated,'' McDonald's spokesman Bill Whitman said. "But you will see elements of this restaurant in some of our new construction. It's all about keeping our restaurants more relevant for our customers.''
McDonald's has undergone an image change in more ways than one since a timetwo-and-a-half years ago when its sales and reputation were sagging amid complaints about its service and food. Despite inconsistent results in some large European countries, that McSlump is no longer: Same-store sales have increased for 25 straight months in the key US market.
The company reported first-quarter operating income was up 6 percent to US$910 million and revenue rose 9 percent to US$4.8 billion over the same time last year. Its stock price nearly tripled over a two-year period, hitting a four-year high of US$34.56 per share in March, but has since settled around US$29.
Snazzier new restaurants are part of the makeover; about 1,000, mostly older US McDonald's have been either renovated or rebuilt since 2002. Contributing more to the sales resurgence, though, have been longer hours, accepting credit and debit cards, the high-powered "I'm lovin' it'' marketing campaign and pricier new food items.
Some of the additions, such as salads, white-meat chicken nuggets and fruit options with Happy Meals, have served the dual purpose of enabling the company to state a commitment to a healthier, balanced menu while bringing in new customers who aren't there for the hamburgers.
McDonald's now hopes to attract more patrons with amenities that might entice them to come in and stay awhile.
Analyst Peter Jankovskis thinks the extra investments to try to make McDonald's restaurants hangouts are worthwhile, noting that they have worked not only at Starbucks but at other chains.
"It used to be that a chance to eat burgers and fries with your friends was enough,'' said Jankovskis, director of research at Oakbrook Investments in nearby Lisle, which owns a million shares of McDonald's stock. "Now it takes a little bit more than that.''
The sprawling new Oak Brook facility is now McDonald's main company-owned restaurant for test concepts, replacing one inside corporate headquarters itself.
Retro is absent here; there's no red mansard roof or giant golden arches, and the two-story stone and brick building has a more understated look.
There's nothing subtle, though, about the double-lane drivethru. McDonald's draws 60 percent of sales from drivethrus, so it's a good bet the number of restaurants with two lanes will be increased from its current US total of fewer than 100.