Dan Naden

@McDonalds: Get Back to Smaller, Intimate Moments

When I was younger, Saturday mornings held a certain level of excitement, especially when Chicago’s winter winds retreated in favor of a warm early day spring breeze.

My brother and I would race through our paper route, tossing papers onto driveways and porches on Elm, School and Maple Streets. Some unlucky neighbors had their paper land in the grass. When our aim was true, the paper landed smack dab in the center on the welcome mat. The faster we’d finish our route, the quicker we’d get to a destination that we’d be longing for all week long – McDonald’s.

I know our parents didn’t like us braving the steady, speedy traffic on Golf Road to get to the Golden Arches, yet my brother and I always made a quick, cautious dash across the road when cars weren’t nearby.

The place was usually empty except for a few seniors who decided to get a headstart on their Saturday, exchanging tales and laughs from their glory days while nursing steaming cups of coffee.

By the time we sat down with the Big Breakfast of pancakes, eggs and hash browns, we hardly said a word. We watched the sun rise while sipping the orange juice that tasted like heaven.

Sadly, McDonald’s doesn’t hold that place in our family’s heart anymore. I watch with disappointment as they try to stay relevant to today’s fickle, finicky consumer. They’ve fled their roots of pancakes, burgers and fries. Now, they chase smoothies, breakfast sandwiches, salads, wraps, specialty coffees, healthy fare. I want them to simplify, yet they feel pressured to diversify to quell shareholder disappointment. Whatever happened to becoming great at only a few things instead of mediocre at many things?

What will the next generation think of McDonald’s? Will it still captivate the imagination as it did for my brother and me? Will youngsters in Toledo, Ohio or Salem, Oregon count down the seconds until they can sit down with those crispy golden fries? Or will it fade it irrelevance, becoming just another restaurant in a crowded landscape of commoditized fast food/fast casual restaurants?

I cheer for McDonald’s as they undergo yet another rebranding effort. The enormous pressure they face to stay the #1 fast foot chain in the world makes it a challenging road ahead.

I don’t have McDonald’s management’s ear, but if I did, I’d tell them to try to create experiences (through quality food and customer service) that can span generations. Think of two brothers saving up cash all week to split a Big Mac. Or a volleyball team celebrating victory with cheeseburgers and fries.

If I had it my way, I’d gladly be nervous about my son racing down a busy road towards the Golden Arches in the distance.

Until next time,

Dan Naden

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