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In today's issue of USA Today, reporter Bruce Horovitz interviews four industry "experts" on tips to keep McDonald's on top and relevant in the years to come.  Read the full article here.  Some of the suggestions are good, others seem to miss the mark or suggest changes that are contrary to McDonald's business model.  Here are my thoughts, but be sure to read the entire article to see who said what:

1. Fix Dinner.  I agree but would suggest that dinner is a place where many traditional fast food restaurants, not just McDonald's, struggle.  The chains that seem to make a good leap into the dinner hour are the ones that can provide something that "feels" like dinner.  El Pollo Loco is a good example, as bringing home a roasted chicken and some fresh veggies or beans makes sense at dinner.

2. Serve breakfast all day.  Amen, brother.  True story that just happened the other day:  I was driving between AZ and CA with my wife and mother-in-law.  It was 10:26am and they wanted breakfast while I wanted lunch.  At this particular McDonald's, the cutover is at 10:30.  So I could order breakfast but would have to drive around the building again and order lunch.  If McDonald's says it is impractical to leave the full menu available all day, how about just bacon, egg and hash brown items?  I don't think too many people would be upset if they couldn't get hotcakes at 3 in the afternoon, but an egg sandwich should be totally doable.

3. Roll out monthly specials.  I think promotions are effective too, they don't have to be special menu items.

4. Sell sausage.  Oh brother.  That sounds like somebody's special craving.  If the country (or world) wanted sausage (brats or whatever) McDonald's would be selling them.  The real comment seems to be to offer a unique alternative $1 item.  We can talk about that one at #6 below.

5. Out-customize everyone.  This one seems the most unrealistic.  McDonald's does far more customization than they did in the '70's or even the '80's, when Burger King's "Have it your way" mantra rang true.  But McDonald's needs to balance customization with speed, one of the real reasons people still go to FAST food restaurants.  I go for the two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun, not some custom combination.

6. Stop price creep.  Taco Bell has tried to keep their under-a-dollar menu robust with non-meat items like potato-based and cheese-based items.  At McDonald's you go for the meat.  I am not sure it is realistic to expect them to put an artificial cap on prices without cutting quality or not meeting expectations.  Look at how they replaced the double-cheeseburger with the McDouble, a double patty with one slice of cheese.  A good effort to control costs but one that admittedly made this author distressed.

7. Consider home delivery.  Hey, if that works, great, but it feels like a niche at best.

8. Lure Millennials.  I agree McDonald's needs to stay relevant to each generation and I don't see a risk of that changing.  Feels like a marketing suggestion more than anything else.

What else would I do to keep McDonald's relevant?  Here are some of my ideas:

1. Streamline menu choices.  There are some variations that are unnecessary.  Three kinds of Angus burgers in addition to the core burger menu seems excessive and probably is not what people go to McDonald's for.

2. Completely revamp the chicken menu.  This has been my battle cry this year.  McDonald's needs a decent chicken menu, centered around a signature (tasty and distinct) grilled sandwich.

3. Reduce variation in store design.  McDonald's used to be cookie-cutter-uniform.  Virtually all stores looked the same.  Over the '90's and '00's that changed as experiments in becoming more Starbucks-like, Ikea-like, or minimalist took over.  The current hodge podge of different styles does not reflect well on delivering a consistent brand image to consumers.

4. Embrace Ronald McDonald.  Stories accusing McDonald's of using Ronald to get kids hooked on fattening fare will come and go.  I say that is no reason to throw the clown out with the bathwater.  Ronald is iconic and needs to take center stage in driving families back into the restaurants for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner.

Got other ideas?  Share them!

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