McDonald's demands swifter service with a smile

A customer leaves a McDonald's restaurant on March 12, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif.

Fast food isn’t called friendly food -- and for a reason. 

"Welcome to King Burger where we can do it your way, but don't get crazy!" says Bon Qui Qui, a character in a "MADtv" skit. When a customer orders a "number five with a boneless skinless chicken that is slightly seasoned," Bon Qui Qui bellows: "SECURITY!  NEXT."

Customer service can be an issue in real life too, as McDonald's is finding out. Company documents cited by The Wall Street Journal say that McDonald's customers are increasingly complaining about unfriendly service.

Mark Adler, coffee in hand, says his Manhattan McDonald's of choice is “usually...pretty good about taking the next guest and what not, but the people behind the register tend to get a little testy when there’s one long line.”

For Noelle Curbelo, it’s the long line that’s the issue, not the smiles. She says customer service is “not that great but you don’t really care. It’s all about speed.”

Unfortunately for McDonald's, customer complaints about speed are rising, too. The fast-food giant did well during the recession, when customers cared mostly about value, but times have changed and there’s pressure to do something about serving customers swiftly and with a smile. 

Improving service is sort of a low-hanging fruit, according to Sam Oches*, editor of fast food industry magazine QSR.

“Customer service is something they can really get to right now,” he says. "New menu items take a long time to develop, a long time to test."

McDonald's also has to worry about its smiling competition, restaurants known as “fast casual,” such as Panera and Chipotle, or “better-burger-joints,” such as Five Guys and Smashburger. 

“They’re stealing market share,” Ochis says, and Mcdonald's -- which he adds has long been at the forefront of the industry's evolution -- has not choice but to keep up. "Part of that's going to be in customer service."

McDonald's declined to comment on its plans, but the chain’s reportedly creating a new job of “runner.” That employee will hand out stuff like cups and condiments, so more time can be spent being polite to customers.


We decided to do some testing on McDonald's ordering time. Here's what happened when we asked some New Yorkers to time how long it took for their orders to come out.

Tristan Cohen ordered Chicken Nuggets, French fries and chocolate chip cookies.

 

Jennifer Mendoza ordered a salad at the busy McDonald's.

 

Jonathan Alerhand ordered a chicken sandwich and French fries, and felt hesitant about the time it took.

 

*Correction: This story originally misspelled the name of Sam Oches, editor of QSR. The text has been corrected.

Tell us what you think -- is McDonald's taking too long with its orders (or maybe not even long enough)? Tweet us @MarketplaceAPM, comment on our Facebook page, or leave a message below.

About the author

Sabri Ben-Achour is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the New York City bureau. He covers Wall Street, finance, and anything New York and money related.

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