Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

McDonald's has a lot of buns in the air.

When you're the biggest and you let yourself become the slowest and the least reactive to change, you suddenly have to address many things at once.

In recent times, this has meant actual fresh beef in Quarter Pounders and even robots taking orders at the drive-thru.

Yet things still aren't going all that well.

I deduce this from a letter, published by CNBC, sent to all McDonald's owners by the National Owners Association.

This happens to be a powerful organization representing McDonald's franchisees.

The franchisees see a grim picture. 

They write: 

We have changed the focus to our drive thru's, where our customers want to use us most. We have reengaged the gate keeper. We are studying our operations to ensure our speed and efficiency. We are finding ways to drive profitable growth. Yet, we are still losing guest counts.

Wait, so all these improvements haven't brought customers flooding back?

It seems not. 

The franchisees point to several areas of disturbance.

They're certainly tired of those deals that encourage customers to dive to the bottom. You know, the Dollar Menus that McDonald's used to adore.

The tone of the letter is cutting in its analysis: 

We must find more sustainable growth opportunities. Price is not the answer, especially in today's economic environment.

Now there's a thing. 

Who'd have imagined that enjoying the perception of being cheap would be unsustainable in a world in which fast-food customers are prepared to pay a little more for something that isn't, well, frozen?

In time, that is.

There was more, sadly. And it had difficult overtones. 

The franchisees are angry that McDonald's began to import menu favorites from around the world and putting them on U.S. menus.

Some might have thought this enligtening. The franchisees don't think America is ready for this kind of culinary immigration. 

They say: 

Promoting our customers' favorites does generate results. We wish we could say the same about the worldwide favorites. They may be favorites abroad, but they are not our customers' favorites.

The politically concerned might find the tone positively Trumpian. Or even negatively. 

What the franchisees insist customers want is, oh, a chicken sandwich.

Here's how the franchisees see customers' love for chicken: 

Unfortunately, they have to go to Chick-Fil-A for it. Chick-Fil-A's results demonstrate the power of chicken. Yes, we have great Chicken McNuggets and our McChicken is a very good product. But we do not compete in the premium chicken sandwich category, either grilled or crispy.

It's an interesting view of fast-food life, isn't it?

Does customer adoration -- or, might I say, worship -- of Chick-Fil-A merely show the power of chicken?

Or does it show the power of a very good product, a simple menu and superior customer service?

It's entertaining that Chick-Fil-A's chicken sandwich is merely its fourth-highest selling product.

Its chicken nuggets are more popular. 

And it's not as if Chick-Fil-A doesn't have its own concerns. It worries that it might get eaten into by the new non-meat movement.

Which, by the by, McDonald's is also behind on.

While Burger King has its Impossible Whopper, McDonald's has no competitor.

I asked McDonald's whether it has any opinion of the franchisees' letter and will update, should I hear.

Still, the last thing the company wants is friction between it and the franchisees upon whom it relies.

For their part, the franchisees are so intimidated by Chick-Fil-A that they seem to fear calamity. 

So much so that they insert the knife quite deeply into McDonald's management: 

You may not have Chick Fil A's in your market or to the degree they have them in the southeast, but they are coming. And they don't discount.

An actual discounting jibe? This is serious.

This is how serious.

The franchisees invoked one of America's most beloved presidents: 

A Chicken Sandwich at McDonald's should be our top priority. JFK called for a man on the moon, our call should be a category-leading chicken sandwich.

I must go. I have a sudden need to lie down.

Or to go to In-N-Out.

Published on: Jul 13, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.