To have more than 30,000 restaurants worldwide, McDonald's definitely is doing something right. The foundation was created in the late 1940s by the McDonald brothers of Southern California, with their hallmark of efficiency expanded and fine-tuned through the years as McDonald's expanded from a single site to a global conglomerate.
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But what is the secret to McDonald's success? Read on to learn five facts about the rise of the Golden Arches.
Efficiency and a Vision
Brothers Dick and Mac McDonald perfected their Speedee Service System at their restaurant in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1949. They served hungry customers at record speed by selling a limited menu, which included hamburgers for 15 cents, milkshakes and French fries. Their concept proved so successful that they sold franchises to other aspiring restaurateurs, with nine more restaurants opening in all.
A 1954 visit from Ray Kroc, a distributor of milkshake mixing machines, changed the brothers' lives. So mesmerized was Kroc by their quick-serve system that he became their franchise agent and, at age 52, changed his career focus from shake machines to burgers. The following year, Kroc opened the first McDonald's east of the Mississippi River in Des Plaines, Ill. -- closer to his native Chicago.
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A Plan To Expand
Kroc wasn't going to limit McDonald's to the Illinois market. In 1961, he bought out the McDonald brothers, acquiring the rights to the company for $2.7 million. He envisioned the company one day having 1,000 restaurants, and the people running those eateries would need training. In 1961, in the basement of the McDonald's in Elk Grove Village, Ill., the first Hamburger University opened. The graduates were bestowed Bachelor of Hamburgerology degrees.
Kroc didn't stick to the United States borders for the restaurants; they entered Canada and Puerto Rico in 1967. Today, according to the McDonald's website, the company has more than 36,000 units in 100-plus nations. Its most recent nation entry was in 2016 in Kazakhstan.
Thorough Menu Testing
As the years passed and the chain grew, the McDonald's menu expanded. Today it includes staples such as Chicken McNuggets, a variety of coffees and, of course, breakfast sandwiches and hash browns. But a McDonald's menu typically doesn't go from a great idea to the grill overnight.
McDonald's menu team works with franchisees and customers to test prospective menu items, according to Eat This, Not That! But that's only after the items have been through a rigorous development process at headquarters that involves seeing the initial ideas run through chefs, food scientists and nutritionists, as described in a 2016 article in the Chicago Tribune.
The Filet-O-Fish sandwich was added to the menu in 1965, followed by the Big Mac (1965), Quarter Pounder and Quarter Pounder with Cheese (1973), Egg McMuffin (1975) and Chicken McNuggets (1983). The McFlurry dessert came along in 1994, but its debut was limited to restaurants in Canada.
Keeping Up With Technology
Kroc died in 1984 at age 81, but the innovator undoubtedly would appreciate how today's technology -- combined with the pandemic -- has altered the restaurant world.
On its website, McDonald's explains how it is "doubling down" on what it calls the "three D's": digital, delivery and drive-thru. The company says it continues to build its digital platform to "provide more personal, more convenient and better experiences for our customers," including mobile ordering and rewards.
In addition, McDonald's says it will integrate delivery into its mobile app and also improve the drive-thru process by making it faster through technology.
Response to Criticism
Franchise Direct, a website covering the franchise industry, said the way McDonald's has met criticism is a key to its success. In the mid-1980s, an activist organization in London pushed its two beliefs about McDonald's: Its packaging harmed the environment and its food was unhealthy.
McDonald's responded by creating the Global Environmental Commitment in 1990, dedicated to protecting natural resources and reducing solid waste. Now, according to Franchise Direct, more than 80% of McDonald's packaging comes from renewable materials and the company has pledged that 100% of its packaging for food items will come from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.
Through the Global Advisory Council, founded in 2003, McDonald's assembled a coalition of experts in nutrition and children's health to provide guidance. The chain responded by introducing healthier menu options, such as salads and fruit parfaits, and adding fruit and lower-fat milk options to Happy Meals.
McDonald's ditched the salad options during the pandemic, streamlining the menu for simplicity of service as restaurants sat empty and diners went through the drive-thru. An August 2022 report in The Wall Street Journal, however, said diners are clamoring for salads to come back.
The next move belongs to McDonald's.
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