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We beg, we plead, we beg some more, and finally we get a decent chicken offering at McDonald's.  The CBO, previously reviewed in its beef version, is truly worthy.

mcdonalds chicken cbo

Just like its beef sibling, the chicken CBO, here the grilled one, is tangy/juicy/savory/salty/meaty goodness on a sturdy bun.  I won't dwell too much on the assembly or contents, which apart from the aforementioned meat change, is identical.

mcdonalds cbo chicken

McDonald's Grilled Chicken CBO

And the crispy (fried) version is equally tasty.  The large crunchy chicken breast finally gets some topping love and is no longer the bland, dry and lonely core of the previous chicken sandwich lineup.

mcdonalds cbo crispy chicken

mcdonalds cbo crispy chicken

McDonald's Crispy Chicken CBO

Very good, McDonald's.  The only thing I worry about is that dang "for a limited time" tag that appears on every new menu item.  At this point McDonald's you have a winner.  My only advice:  keep it!

In-N-Out Burger, Rallys & Checkers all have one thing in common.  Well, other than burgers.  They all made a name for themselves largely on their drive-thru service.  And many stores, especially Rallys/Checkers and the original batch of In-N-Out's had double drive-thrus.  Two independent lanes of traffic going to two sides of a central kitchen.  I always thought that was great, except when I was a single driver and went through the left hand lane (for those of you in the UK, you may not immediately recognize the hassle of reaching across the right-side passenger seat).  Anyway, there is an implied built in efficiency to dual lane drive-thru's.  Two lanes mean processing double the customers per hour, theoretically.  But does it?  Or does it just move the bottleneck further up the literal food chain?

Recently, McDonald's started rolling out advanced dual-position drive-thru lanes for ordering, but each lane merges into a single one for payment and pickup. 

mcdonalds double drive thru

A new McDonald's dual-lane drive-thru under construction

There are two flavors of the McDonald's design, parallel ordering and tandem ordering.  In parallel ordering, pictured above, the drive-thru begins as two separate lanes.  After ordering, the lanes merge and then wrap around the building for payment and pick-up like normal.  For restaurants with limited space, two tandem ordering positions are set up one after the other, allowing two cars to stay in line but order simultaneously, or nearly so.

But think about the rest of the process.  At McDonald's, there may still be a single order taker.  There is a single payment window and the food comes out of a single window.  So what is the true time savings?  It seems to me that this is just a faster way to get people to place their orders and commit, especially in busy times, without driving away.  And maybe that is part of it.  But equally true is that there is additional "bandwidth" in the assembly process and, many restaurants agree, the true bottleneck is on the customer's side.  Dual-lane order taking prevents the slow, unsure guest from gumming up the works.  We've all been stuck behind one of those, so there's a plus right there.

What do you think?  Do you see any benefit to this?  Do you think it is more efficient or do you think the public will just think it is?

farm burger

A small three-store burger joint in the Atlanta area, Farm Burger combines gourmet burgers and a bar in a rustic, noisy but family-friendly atmosphere.  There are three locations, and I visited the one in Buckhead GA.

farm burger

farm burger

The menu follows a format similar to anyone who has visited Fuddruckers or other build-a-burger chains.  The gimmick: know your burger.  Fresh beef from grass-fed, happy cows (presumably until they became patties) that were never fed antibiotics, hormones or grain.  What does that do to the taste?  Well, it makes for a big, thick and juicy burger with a great non-processed taste.

farm burger

I built my burger with lettuce, tomato, "house" pickles, FB sauce (a sort of spicy thousand island) and grainy mustard.  For company, I added an order of onion rings and a Coke.

farm burger

First to arrive was my basket of six big juicy onion rings.  They come with the standard horseradish-based dipping sauce.  Note the can of Coke - this is the way you get soft drinks.  At first I was thinking that was kind of cheap, until the guy bringing my food asked if I wanted another.  Apparently, they will give you another can if you want in lieu of refills.  Nice.  But a fountain drink would still have been preferred.

farm burger

Shortly after the rings came the main event.  Wow, look at that first impression!  The burger occupied the entire basket and was a challenge to cut in half.  Everything was generous, from the size of the patty to the number of pickles.  And the sandwich had a great homemade taste that suggested the cook made it just for me.  Which he did.

For more information, check them out at farmburger.net.

mcdonalds

What kind of sandwich is this?

mcdonalds-bigmac-quarterbun

No, it's not a new menu item.  It's a Big Mac on a Quarter Pounder bun.  My wife likes getting the Big Mac without the center slice of bread.  That is a royal pain to order, especially in the drive-thru, as there is "no button for that."  Sometimes they press NO MAC BUN and I end up with the sandwich on a tiny cheeseburger bun, which of course is also sans sesame seeds.  When they do it right, they normally press the ASK ME button, meaning the cooks are supposed to ask the attendant what is special.

This is far simpler, and I commend the drive-thru attendant last week at my Mesa (Ellsworth & Baseline) McDonald's for punching the QUARTER BUN button.  Sweet!  The right size to hold all the Macky goodness, and sesame seeds to boot.  I am not sure how much of a nutritional savings my wife is getting ordering it this way, but I am happy ordering and she is happy eating.  All is right with the world.

taco bell logo

We haven't talked about Taco Bell much lately.  But they are chugging along, continuing to innovate with interesting combinations of some of their existing ingredients (e.g. XXL Nachos) as well as coming up with some new stuff.  In that second category is the Cantina Menu.

taco bell cantina menu poster

You may have seen the commercials, focusing on chef Lorena Garcia.  Fresh ingredients, a new taste, this marketing campaign is promoting a different look and style from TB's normal ads.

 I tried the Cantina Bell bowl with chicken.  Not expecting it to be a direct competitor to the Chipotle chicken bowl, I was hoping it would be in the same ballpark.  Maybe that raised my expectations too much, because I was disappointed.

What they advertised

taco bell cantina bell chicken bowl

What I received

The choices for the Cantina Bell menu are first bowl or burrito, and then you choose chicken, beef or veggie.  The common ingredients are rice, black beans, pico, corn relish, lettuce, guac, and a creamy cilantro dressing.  My "citrus-herb marinated chicken" had a strong citrus (lemony) taste but was otherwise bland.  I would have liked a more grilled, savory taste especially to offset the cilantro dressing.  In fact, I found all the flavors to be a bit drab.  There was no kick or spice like in similar offerings from El Pollo Loco or the aforementioned Chipotle.  In fact, it didn't taste especially Mexican or even Southwestern.

I will give Taco Bell credit for effort, as well as for portion size.  This was a hearty bowl.  The chicken was generous.  They didn't skimp on the scoops of salsa or the dressing.  But overall, I wasn't wowed.  I suspect the burrito version might be a bit more satisfying, as all the ingredients tend to mesh together better when tucked snugly inside a tortilla blanket.

Try it and let us know what you think.

 

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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Providing fast food blogs, menus, locations and other information for over80 major chains

Since 2000, Fast Food Source has been the premier independent site dedicated to fast food lovers, offering fast food restaurant menus, and nutrition information, as well as fast food blogs, articles, forums, and fast food industry news. We offer fast food location information for over 50 cities and more than 80 fast food chains.

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