McDonald’s is facing hard times. They’ve closed 350 stores and are closing 350 more. In articles I’ve read, it appears that they are trying to stanch declining sales by experimenting with serving breakfast all day long and adding premium burgers (even after they pulled their pricy Angus burgers) and maybe throwing in kale on the menu? Kale at McDonald’s? Seriously?
Certainly some of the issues are that McDonald’s menu has not been known, with some exceptions, for its’ healthy food options. Yet other competitors with similar menus are not having the same problem–I suspect that the success of Five Guys is part of what is driving the interest in premium burgers.
I am not an insider either in the restaurant industry or in bookselling. I am simply a customer–one of those people that McDonald’s as well as booksellers depend on to survive. And here are some things I’ve observed that I think McDonald’s has to address that are far more fundamental than menu:
1. Consistency. At one time, you could go to any McDonald’s in the country and get a consistent product–one that tasted like your McDonald’s up the street. That is no longer the case–sometimes we’ve had burgers that taste like cardboard, and other times, what we remembered. And it makes you wonder about other aspects of the back operation.
2. Service. A while back we were in line at one restaurant waiting to order…and waiting, while a manager, who was standing between us and the counter, belly-ached to his line people about how he didn’t like his job and couldn’t wait to go home. By contrast, I was in a Panera recently where I overheard a manager interviewing a new hire who effused enthusiasm for his work, his team, and the quality of product and service they sought to bring to the customer. Can you guess where I prefer to eat these days?
3. Atmosphere. A number of McDonalds remodeled with this futuristic Jetsons look. Instead of making it a comfortable place to enjoy a meal, it sent my wife and me the message that “we’d like you to eat your food and scram as quickly as possible.”
The truth is that I look for the same kinds of things in the bookstores I enjoy visiting. One of my favorite places has a consistently good selection of the kinds of books I enjoy reading (and seems to provide this for a broad range of tastes). I’ve always enjoyed stores where the people working there know and love books. Recently, I learned about BookPeople, one of the best indie stores in the country, based in Austin, TX. It’s just fun to follow their blog and see their enthusiasm for books and bookselling. Same goes for my good friend, Byron Borger, at Hearts and Minds Books. The other thing the best stores create is an atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be the same–some are musty and dusty places with books everywhere. Others are well-organized. Others provide comfy chairs to browse, perhaps with a beverage in hand. What all of them say is “we’re glad you came by.”
All this seems like a no-brainer, whether it comes to selling burgers or books. But what do I know? I’m just a customer.