Friday, May 2, 2008

made for you? or made you wait (and wait and wait)?

ever been to a local mcdonald's lately? thinking their business must be booming because of the longer lines? how long did it take to get your extra value meal? (for me, on one occasion it's over 10 minutes)

apparently all these are the results of a new scheme that mcdonald's been rolling out in its local restaurants around hong kong - the idea's simple: everything's no longer fast - but "made to order". in the past your burgers' cooked and assembled in advance and being tossed into the "station" under the heat lamp; when you ordered, the cashier took what you ordered and handed them right to the tray in front of you. probably took 30 seconds for each items that you ordered to be delivered, unless you have a special request or what you want just happens to be out (which is rare).

but under the new system, the station where dozens of prepared burgers (and nuggets) used to sit is gone. instead each order (from different cashier counters) is recorded into a new, centralised computer system and will be prepared in the order it was received. after the food's prepared, it will be put on a tray and delivered to you right away, so it's literally right off the oven as you receive it. sounds all good right? at least that's what people thought at first. well, according to the case study prepared by dartmouth's tuck school of business, the scheme can 1) allow customized order; 2) improve service response time; 3) improve food quality.

obvious the study was done BEFORE mcdonald's actually implemented it. okay, here's what happened a few years ago. "made for you", as the scheme was named, was first introduced in 1998 to mcdonald's u.s. franchises. the result? quick and brutal - "mcdonald's screwed up" quoted a franchisee of four stores in a chicago tribute article in 2001. "you just can't make the product fast enough at rush hour (using the new system)", said another owner/operator. you can read the news article here.

under this new system - at least that's how they do it in hong kong - customers have to wait in 2 lines - one before they ordered (the right line), and one AFTER (the left line). what used to be a simple 2-minute process from the moment you ordered to getting the food has become a 5-minute hiatus - that's already the best case scenario we have experienced on an average sunday at an outlet in tst. and i don't see any improvement in food quality either. when does eating at mcdonald's become so complicated? sigh.

an article in the motley fool magazine described this as "an expensive disaster" - the scheme requires a retrofitting of the kitchen in each restaurant, costing them us$25000 each, or $400 million all together. the result was also obvious financially - stock's down 42% in 2001 alone, and ceo jack greenberg, who championed the "made for you" initiative, was forced to retire 3 years earlier than planned, in 2002, partly because of the failures of the scheme.

now, a few years later, they finally figured a way to get rid of this failed system - that is to introduce it to its overseas markets. "if it ain't work here, it must work somewhere!" - that's their motto, i suppose. somehow those people high up in the mcdonald's management hierachy think the system's not working in slower-paced u.s. can work in faster-face metropolitan like hong kong, where people treat time more preciously and customer turnover's at least twice as high? what were they thinking? gee! must be those grease in those big-macs clotting up their brain and hindering their ability to think properly. perhaps they have the impression that hongkong people may think since there's a long line, there must be something worth waiting for!

forget carrefour... mcdonald's the one that we should boycott!

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