Why you might wait for your afternoon McMuffin

Annie Baxter Oct 1, 2015

Why you might wait for your afternoon McMuffin

Annie Baxter Oct 1, 2015

McDonald’s is hoping that a longer breakfast will help wake up its U.S. sales.

Starting Oct. 6, the Golden Arches will make some — not all — breakfast items available beyond the usual 10:30 a.m. cutoff.

“When you want your Egg McMuffin, you want your Egg McMuffin, you know what I’m saying?” said Lisa Jorgenson, a McDonald’s drive-thru customer.

But industry experts said it’s not so simple to keep breakfast sandwiches and hotcakes rolling through the production line all day long. Some of the reasons for holding off on all-day breakfast were explained in a video posted to McDonald’s Australia’s YouTube channel last year.

“The main reason is we don’t have enough room in our kitchens to cook everything at once,” Alan Rankin, a McDonald’s crew member, said in the video. “Because they’re so busy at breakfast, some grills are dedicated to one food item only, such as eggs. Our ready-to-eat hotcakes also take up space, which we need to make our burgers.”

But in September, McDonald’s U.S. franchisees voted in favor of extended breakfast hours. About 90 percent of McDonald’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants are independently owned and operated.

Predrag Dostanic owns several McDonald’s restaurants in Minnesota, including one in the small town of North Branch, where all-day breakfast rolled out a few weeks early.

Dostanic has worked in various capacities for the Golden Arches for the past 30 years and helped open the first McDonald’s in the former Yugoslavia.

“We like to say we have ketchup in the blood,” he joked.

Dostanic said all-day breakfast has been easy to implement, partly because it’s a limited breakfast menu. For example, restaurants will offer either a muffin or a biscuit sandwich, depending on regional preferences, but not both.

“Minnesota is a market where people like more muffin sandwiches,” he said.

Dostanic bought an extra toaster and extra egg cooker to mitigate the meal prep space issues. McDonald’s helps cover a portion of the equipment costs, which the company said can run from $500 to $5,000.

Kevin Romano, director of operations at a McDonald’s in North Branch, Minnesota, and franchise owner Predrag Dostanic started serving the all-day breakfast menu a few weeks before the national rollout. They say the necessary operational changes have been relatively easy. (Annie Baxter/Marketplace) 

To demonstrate the ease of cooking breakfast items alongside burgers, Dostanic ordered an Egg McMuffin. There was a bit of fumbling in the kitchen initially, including some confusion about who was handling the toasting of the muffins, which ended up getting a bit overcooked.

But it was easy to see the workers were distracted by having a reporter getting in their way. And in the end, the sandwich came together so quickly, it was hard to keep track of it in the production line.

“There is no interruption, no issue,” Dostanic said.

Still, some potential headaches were obvious, including having to explain to customers they can’t get any breakfast item round the clock.

For customer Roger Huseth, that means no steak breakfast sandwich at night. 

“I really like the steak sandwich,” he told Dostanic. 

A crew member at the North Branch location prepares McMuffins at dinner time.

A crew member at the North Branch location prepares McMuffins at dinnertime.

“We don’t have the steak sandwich,” Dostanic said with a laugh.

And when breakfast items are made to order at off hours, they might take a little extra time. This turned off one drive-thru customer at the North Branch location. She ditched her sausage McMuffin order when she learned it would take an extra five minutes. The customer ordered a breakfast burrito instead. 

Food industry expert Bob Goldin, at the research firm Technomic, said, rightly or wrongly, some McDonald’s customers already think they wait too long at the drive-thru. He said as McDonald’s adds more complexity with all-day breakfast, things could get worse.

“The more products they add, it can have the effect of slowing down service time and increasing error rates,” he said.

But chain restaurant consultant Juelene Beck said a key strategy for rejuvenating sales at quick-service restaurants is to change up the menu. And if that’s done by offering more of something people already like, such as breakfast, “It’s as close to a no-brainer as possible.”

The other potential upside for McDonald’s is that breakfast products are cheaper to produce than burgers and are higher-margin items, so selling more of them could help juice profits. 

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