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York residents among nation of consumers wondering if McDonald's can bounce back

DAVID WEISSMAN
YorkDispatch


On the heels of a report that McDonald's — for the first time in at least four decades — plans to close more of its restaurants in the U.S. than it opens, Yorkers have a range of opinions on the evolution of the fast-food giant.

The chain has been beleagured lately: Revenues are sliding, and its unhealthy reputation has prompted it to offer a mix of salads and other relatively lighter fare.

Local McDonald's customers aren't lovin' it, for a number of reasons.

Primarily, it's about healthy trends, customer confusion and quality competitors.

York City resident Raquel Belbi said she has been taking her son to McDonald's less since they started talking about their weight and eating healthier.

"The menu is not that good when you start seeing calories in everything on the menu," she said.

The restaurant has been providing calorie information on its menus nationwide since late 2012, after a New York law was passed to require chain restaurants to post calories.

Be what you are: York City resident Christopher Spedden, who's also found his McDonald's consumption habits dwindling, said he doesn't have a problem with the unhealthy options at the restaurant chain.

"I don't go to McDonald's for healthy food," Spedden said. "(I go) for tasty food, for fat, grease and salt. It's my choice as an American to eat unhealthy if I choose to."

Spedden believes McDonald's venturing into other areas has been its downfall, he said.

"They've tried to diversify in too many different fields — salads and healthy food and stuff like that," Spedden said.

McDonald's executives also have conceded that an overly complicated menu led to inaccurate orders and longer wait times and that they failed to keep pace with changing tastes.

Mandy Arnold, president of York-based Gavin Advertising, said McDonald's needs to get back to the basics and take a step back from "trying to be everything to all people."

Fast casual restaurants, including top McDonald's competitors Chipotle and Shake Shack, understand they're not for everyone, Arnold said.

Millennials not lovin' it: "Consumer trends are just shifting in general," Arnold said. "Millennials are looking for better ingredients and customization. If you look at Shake Shack and Chipotle, they tout quality products and are not willing to compromise."

McDonald's core values are based around convenience and affordable options, Arnold said, and that's a major, fundamental difference she believes has the company's image becoming less relatable for consumers.

Check out video of Yorkers' opinions here

Changes: McDonald's has been making changes recently after its profits dropped 15 percent last year.

Changes included restructuring its business into four units to "strip away the bureaucracy," testing out an all-day breakfast menu and franchising a larger percentage of its restaurants.

In its most recently reported sales figures, sales in the U.S. dropped 2.2 percent, which accounts for more than 40 percent of its operating profit.

"The reality is our recent performance has been poor," McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said publicly in May. "The numbers don't lie."

Representatives from McDonald's, locally and nationally, did not respond to requests for comments.

Overseas deception: Sales continue to rise overseas, including a 2.3 percent boost in Europe during May, but Arnold believes those numbers might be deceptive as they relate to McDonald's as a whole.

"My assumption is there's lots of internal conflict with McDonald's right now," she said. "Investors want return on their investment, and expansion overseas can skew those reports, but the domestic market will likely suffer."

Recommended changes: Arnold believes McDonald's has saturated the market in the U.S., and the behemoth size of the business makes it difficult to make the changes necessary to keep up with consumer trends, she said.

McDonald's should look at shrinking its organization to a more appropriate size, Arnold said, and prepare its franchisees and stockholders for a path that could mean short-term loss but long-term gain.

Necessary changes go beyond simply changing the menu, she said.

"I think they may need to evaluate their target customers," Arnold said. "If you master making customers happy, it's very sustainable."

Spedden doesn't believe McDonald's will ever get back to where it was at its apex.

"It's a hard one with the way Americans want to eat nowadays — a hamburger that's fat-free, cholesterol-free and salt-free," Spedden said. "You can't have a hamburger that tastes good and is healthy for you, you just can't have it."

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.