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McDonald’s May Look Like Starbucks – But It’s Not

05/16/2011

McDonald's in Osseo, WI

A road trip through Wisconsin last Friday brought me to a McDonald’s in tiny Osseo, WI (pop. 1,670) for a mid-day snack.

I was stunned to walk into a contemporary designed interior. Gone were the red, yellows and orange color schemed vinyl and plastic fixtures. Instead, the entire interior presented burgundy, slate and tan colors on faux leather, wood grain and rich-textured walls.

The new look is inspired by Starbucks.

McDonald’s McCafes already have borrowed the wildly profitable specialty coffee concept from Starbucks. Now, it’s also borrowing small pieces of Starbucks’ look and feel. Starbucks executives declined to comment on the changes.

McDonald’s isn’t just doing this to make customers cozy. It’s doing it to try to quash its rivals — particularly Burger King and Wendy’s — that don’t have McDonald’s deep pockets and the recent sales success necessary to make such costly upgrades. It’s doing it to try to pry customers away from slightly pricier casual chains, including Panera Bread and Chipotle. And it’s doing it to begin cementing a new image of McDonald’s in the minds of consumers.

“Flashy decor may not sit well with Middle America,” warns Scott Hume, editor of the restaurant industry blog BurgerBusiness. “The trick is to go techno without going Jetsons.”

Agreed. I’d add the one needs to be careful when putting lipstick on a pig. While the new look is pleasant and all…it’s still a McDonald’s. McDonald’s sensory stimulations (smells and sounds – in particular) are unique to the fast-food world and are a long-way from Starbucks. Further still is the clientele. Noisy groups of teens, teetering senior citizens and blue-collar lunch break guys make for a different dynamic than keyboard peeking and the conversations or meetings that occur in a coffee shop.

This is a big, expensive risk for the home of 800 billion hamburgers served. Time will tell. But I believe the pig will rub the lipstick off and be itself again.

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