• featured post •
Confession time: I like McDonald’s. There, I said it. Now, before the PC police start lining up to tell me off, let me add that it’s an occasional treat we enjoy.
The girls don’t eat gratuitous sugar – after-school snacks consist of fruit or flavoured rice crackers rather than biscuits or cakes, and crisps, sweets and desserts are reserved for weekends only.
Because we make such an effort day-to-day, I’m totally fine with them getting a Happy Meal now and again. I want them to learn that moderation is the key, so they can continue to make healthy choices long after that day they stop listening to me!
Besides, you might be surprised at how much McDonald’s has changed in recent years.
Gone are the white plastic booths, glaring fluorescents and terracotta tiles of yesteryear; replaced by elegant banquettes, contemporary wooden accents, and relaxing neutral shades.
These snazzy monitors have been installed, with email access for the grown-ups and computer games for the kids (and the big kids…). And – here’s the really cool part – these new multimedia desks also come equipped with chargers for your phones and tablets. How handy is that?
As the nation has become more conscious of nutrition and a balanced diet, so has the chain of family restaurants.
Obviously, they’re not claiming to be a health-food store, but they have been hard at work implementing changes to make your fast-food treat a little more guilt free, and your dining experience much quicker and easier.
I was invited alongside Louise from A Strong Coffee to the McDonald’s in the Oracle shopping centre, Reading, to hear more about the evolution of the restaurants, and also to see first-hand some of the technology that has been introduced.
You’ve probably already noticed the digital self-service kiosks, where you place your order via a touchscreen, but here are a few things you might not know…
You can order the entire menu via the screens, including customising your meals (requesting extra special sauce on your Big Mac, etc).
And, here’s the really good bit – currently being rolled out is an option for table service. Eventually, all restaurants will be marked with zones; simply select the zone you’re sitting in when you place your order and when its ready your food will be brought right to you. If you’ve ever tried to juggle a toddler, and baby in a pushchair and a full tray of food through a crowded restaurant, you’ll understand how handy this new service is.
They’ve also introduced a free McDonald’s app: not only can you quickly access special deals and the nutritional information for every food item (which are also clearly marked on the display screens behind the counter), but you can even pre-order your food before you even leave home, then collect it in store.
When you arrive at the restaurant you’ll be asked to scan in a QR code, which alerts the kitchen to start cooking. How simple is that?
But even if you prefer to order the ‘old-fashioned way’, you’ll find your experience is faster and easier than ever.
The chain has listened to customer feedback over the years to hone and refine the way they prepare meals. Every order is made fresh now, but the increased efficiency of the cooking process means you don’t wait any longer for your piping hot fries and juicy burgers.
To see this first hand, we were taken behind the scenes to see exactly how the magic happens. In the staffroom, Louise and I discovered we had our very own McDonald’s hat and apron, and even a personalised name badge (balloons optional).
I think I carry it off quite well… oui?
After washing our hands we were introduced to the super-efficient production line. As orders come in via the front counter, a computer tallies up the quantities and flashes them up on a screen in the kitchen. Each item is colour coded, so staff out back can see at a glance what will be needed for the incoming orders (for example, six meat patties), giving them a chance to prepare themselves.
Then the order itself is received, and the team members go to work. And here’s where I managed to fulfil a little dream of mine… I got to make my very own Big Mac!
I know what you’re thinking – I make it look easy – but there’s a technique involved: the buns are toasted for 17 seconds exactly. Next, the famous special sauce is squirted on the bottom and middle buns, followed by a pinch of onion and lettuce on each.
Next up, two slices of pickle which must sit next to each other, not on top of each other (they should be ‘kissing, not hugging’). Finally, the middle stack is carefully balanced on the base and crowned by the top bun. Et voilà!
It’s this precision that ensures your Big Mac tastes just the same in Cork as it does in Cornwall.
The McDonald’s chain is upfront about the fact their food, historically, hasn’t had the best nutritional record, but that’s something the company has worked hard to improve in recent years.
The milk is organic, and the eggs are free range, and the saturated fat levels in the cooking oil have been reduced by 83%, compared to the 1990s. The beef comes from 100% whole cuts of beef that are prepared by butchers with just a pinch of salt and pepper.
Happy Meals can have their fries swapped out for carrot sticks, and a fruit bag added. Only organic milk, juice and water are initially shown on the touchscreen menus – you have to click on to a new screen to access the fizzy drinks – to encourage children to choose the healthier versions (out of sight, out of mind).
The chicken McNuggets (the subject of much controversy over the years) contain only 100% chicken breast meat, and all the artificial colours, flavours and preservatives have been removed. A typical Happy Meal (chicken McNuggets, fries and at fruit shoot) has had its salt content cut by 52 percent (down to 0.84g),
The continuing aim of the McDonald’s chain is to provide families with a fast-food dining experience that’s as pleasant, affordable and stress-free as possible.
And, after seeing behind the scenes, I reckon they’re doing a pretty great job.
FIVE WAYS TO MAKE YOUR MCDONALD’S HEALTHIER
• request for some, or all, of the bun to be removed from your burger
• forgo the dipping sauces for your McNuggets
• switch out your fries for carrot sticks, or a shaker of side salad
• choose water instead of a fizzy drink
• swap your burger for a grilled chicken wrap – sweet chilli is the lightest, with 9 grams of fat
• I was a guest of McDonald’s and received a payment for my time, and to write objectively about my experience.