A Visit to McDonalds

It takes less than a minute to make a Big Mac. Actually, it takes less than 50 seconds to make this iconic burger. On a busy day, with the process in full flow, three people are involved in its creation. One to toast the buns, one to cook the meat and another to dress the bun. And by the time you walk or drive away from the counter with your order, the number of people involved has increased further. One more person has wrapped the burger, another person collected the order and a final person has served your order. That’s six people in total.

And there are a set of standard operating procedures for each step which each employee has to learn verbatim and be tested on periodically, to assess their knowledge and application. From the number of Big Mac buns which can be toasted at any one time (it’s four) to the order in which the bun is dressed (it’s onions, Big Mac sauce, lettuce, pickles and cheese)to how long the meat takes to cook (it’s 40 seconds). Every step has a documented procedure and it’s the same for every other menu option.

But what is it that makes this franchise one of the most successful businesses in the world? What is it that allows McDonalds to sell more than 75 burgers per second?

Assuming you’ve eaten there once or twice, you can probably vouch it’s certainly not the food! You can get an equal or even better burger in countless other places.

Is it the brand? Well, yes perhaps. But really the equity of the brand is merely a result of the rise of the fast-food chain and a consequence of its success.

Is it the fact that they are so ubiquitous that more customers visit a McDonalds restaurant daily than live in the UK? Again, yes. But this is also a consequence of that fact that it has become so well established, popular and profitable.

Actually, what has allowed McDonalds to scale so effectively and become so successful is the fact that you can go to any McDonalds anywhere is the world and order a Big Mac which looks the same, tastes the same, costs the same and is presented the same. The whole thing is replicable, from the back-office, to the menu options, to the way in which the food is served.

A recent survey revealed that one-in-eight American workers have been employed by McDonalds at some point. That’s incredible! But the only way to hire and train people on that scale, often taking young and inexperienced people and have them replicate the model, are by having well established systems and processes in place.

And this is a business most definitely built on robust systems and processes.

In an earlier post I talked about the importance of looking at the right metrics and why a sales process is so important. If you want to scale your business then you have to ensure that adequate systems and processes are in place. McDonalds take this to the Nth degree but its perhaps the best example. If you want to build a business that can be scaled and is sustainable, there needs to be documented systems and processes for all of the important tasks across all functions. And Sales is no different. Ultimately your business should function with or without you or key people in place and so while a ‘fly-by-the seat-of-your-pants’ approach gets the creative juices flowing and can be fun, every business will hit a point of realization where it’s clear that there is a need for greater structure. The sooner that point is realized, the better.

Now here’s the ‘but’…

You can systemize your business to the maximum but what makes a visit to McDonalds or any other restaurant memorable? Is it getting what you ordered? No, that’s a minimum. Is it fast, efficient service? No, that’s an expectation. Is it hot, fresh food? No, again that’s an expectation. What about friendly service and a smile? No, that’s also an expectation.

We don’t tell people about a ‘great experience’ in which the order was correct, the service efficient, the food hot or the staff friendly. Rather we tell others when the experience falls short of our minimum expectations.

What makes the difference is how people interact with you. It’s someone noticing you in the queue, recognizing you and knowing that you like your Big Mac made in a particular way, perhaps without the pickles! It’s one of the staff members taking the time to talk to your kids about their Happy Meal character and the movie they’re from. It’s someone giving you a desert ‘on the house’ after you’ve been made to wait unduly for your order. It’s people going above and beyond what is expected – the human element that you can’t systemize or have a process for, but instead rely on emotional intelligence and interaction.

So whilst we can and should use systems and processes to scale our businesses, to make sure they’re optimized and reproducible, it will always be people who can create a point of differentiation and make the experience a memorable one. You can’t have a process for this type of thinking but you can hire great people, empower and support them, and allow them to flourish.

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