I've talked to more reporters in the last 60 days than all of 2014. Usually these folks
cover McDonald's out of Chicago or they cover the industry in general. In either case
they know something about McDonald's so conversations are sometimes routine.
McDonald's had a presence at a technology summit in Austin TX last month and the
reporters covering the event knew nothing about McDonald's. A reporter who normally
just reports on technology developments asked this question:
"How is this digital strategy different from previous initiatives McDonald's franchisees
have been asked to buy into?"
I responded, "It's imaginary".
A better word might have been "conceptual", but I explained that previous initiatives
involved remodeling, adding equipment, or new products. These have been tangible
things that can be tested or observed in other areas of the industry. Mobile payment,
mobile ordering, kiosk ordering, etc. are all in the initial testing stages and nowhere
has any chain proven that they builds sales or fit into the operation of the restaurant.
Last week I shared this line of thinking with a Wall Street analyst and they replied.
"It's working at Panera Bread".
As of mid-February Panera 2.0 is in 300 of their 1,900 stores and their CEO hopes to
have it 600 stores by the end of 2015, so far only in company operated stores. Panera's Management has been talking about Panera 2.0 for a long time but they haven't yet
proven anything, except it's an expensive implementation.
Smashburger launched their mobile app three weeks ago. Sonic is making noise about
a "21st century network with our customers" but so far it's just talk.
In March, When asked about their digital strategy, McDonald's CFO told an investor conference "We are a little late to the game". No they're not! Everyone's at the
beginning and no one's proven anything.
One of the reasons digital seems like an established part of the restaurant industry is
that much of the hype is created by the people who sell the hardware and software. It's
in their best interest to make digital seem like proven technology.
And it all sure sounds good - maybe some of it will pay for itself?