It used to be all about upselling and cross selling – retailers and fast food companies alike would train staff to take every opportunity to suggest additional items to increase sales. Some recent developments in two fast food chains, Burger King and McDonald’s, are doing quite the opposite in reaction to consumer perception, speed of service, and overall improved service levels.
At first glance, it seems counterintuitive, but it seems as though both are responding to customer demands in an interesting way.
First, let’s look at Burger King. They recently stopped marketing soft drinks with kid’s meals, and instead promoting healthier items, such as milk, chocolate milk, and apple juice. The company did not formally roll out this program, instead opting to quietly launch the new initiative. According to a recent article, Burger King says this move was done “as part of our ongoing effort to offer our guests options that match lifestyle needs.”
McDonald’s did something very similar. While on a recent visit to McDonald’s, after not visiting in some time, I ordered a Happy Meal and was met with the question, “Would you like Apple Dippers or yogurt with that?” Confused, and feeling guilty for even asking, I asked if fries were still an option. She said they were and finished the order. I have to admit, I understand what the company is doing, and many parents do want healthier options. They are facing some backlash for their unhealthy menu, and I get that. But, as a parent who can make her own decisions about what her child eats, I did feel guilty ordering fries. I would hope that is not McDonald’s intent, and don’t believe it is, but this subliminal sales prevention might be a problem.
Another thing McDonald’s is changing potentially is their drive thru menu. After consistent issues with slow speed of service, the company is considering a bold move – remove some menu items from the drive thru so that customers do not see them and will be less likely to order them. If there are fewer items customers see, it may be less of a variety of items ordered, which is easier for staff and may potentially improve speed of service.
A recent article discussing this change does say that if a customer would like to order something that is not visible on the menu, they can do so, but their hope is that customers will focus on ordering the limited items visible on the drive thru menu.
They are also considering removing the items with the least amount of sales. This might be a more effective move than quietly removing menu items from the drive thru and hope that out of sight is out of mind.
Maybe this is a smart move; if a customer is in the drive thru, they are obviously wanting to get in and out. If they see that something they’d like to order is not there, they may quickly find something that works for them and move on. However, if this is not done effectively, it could cause more hangups in the drive thru. Imagine the customer who really wants a certain item, and they came specifically for that item. If they don’t see it on the menu board, they may ask if it’s still available. If the drive thru employee isn’t sure, or isn’t sure if it can be sold in the drive thru, they may take an extra moment to confer with a manager. And then, it may take extra time to ring into the register, as it is an item they are not used to ringing up. Time could also be added if, while the employee is finding out if the item could be ordered, the customer finds another alternative in the meantime, and changes the order midstream. This could take more time than is needed, causing further delays.
These recent developments are very interesting. Have companies now turned to sales prevention in order to improve business? I will admit, as a parent, the stealth move of not advertising soft drinks and not mentioning fries can be helpful. If a parent is trying to get healthier items for their child, it’s easy for the parent to say, “Look, they don’t offer soda” or “they asked if you wanted apples or yogurt, which one would you like?” because the dreaded “bad” items are not even mentioned. This could help parents and I could see how this would be viewed as a positive move. On the flip side though, it could make other parents (like myself) feel guilty about even asking for the unhealthy stuff.
The fast food industry is definitely in a tough position – they want to cater to both types of customers, those who want what they usually order and those who are demanding healthier options. With these recent changes, the pendulum seems to be swinging toward the healthier options crowd, a move that could cause backlash among those who just want some fries.