Been to McDonald's lately? If not, you might not  recognize a McDonald's the next time you stop in. 

The world's largest restaurant chain is spending $6 billion to makeover thousands of McDonald's restaurants across the U.S.. They've already made the changes at 5,000 locations, and they unveiled last month how they'll spend another $3.5 billion to work on 5,230 restaurants in 16 states plus Washington, D.C..

The changes include things like new decor, curbside pickup, and self-order kiosks. But let's look hard for a minute on that big number: $6 billion. It's a truly staggering amount of money (even if it's also only about the same as 4 percent of Jeff Bezos's net worth). It's about the same as: 

  • the entire market capitalization of the entire Dunkin' Donuts chain,
  • the entire value of Wendy's--plus an additional 40 percent on top of that, or alternatively,
  • a little bit less than the entire GDP of the nation of The Bahamas

So what's McDonald's getting in return?

Overall, the refresh is an effort to turn around some of the stagnation that the brand has seen in recent years--most recently its "underperforming"  $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu, and its experience on March 2 of this year, which was the single worst day in McDonald's history, ever. 

And it's also partly a hedge against whether McDonald's will actually be able to recruit enough people to work in its restaurants, in an age of higher minimum wages and far lower unemployment--especially among young people.

So, to the future. The vision, as my colleague Justin Bariso first wrote more than a year ago, is to build the same experience at every McDonald's--an experience that involves a lot less waiting and interacting with other people than you might imagine now.

Walk into a futuristic McD's, and you'd go right to the front of the line--enough self-order kiosks for everyone. Choose your order and pay without talking with anyone, and then make your way to a table, where someone would eventually drop off your order. 

Or else, McDonald's hopes maybe you'll never have to even interact with machines on site--ordering via its app, and parking in a designated spot outside where once again, an employee will just bring your order.

At least for now it's an employee.

Perhaps the next $6 billion refurbishment program will just be to replace everybody with robots.

Published on: Aug 17, 2018
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