Fast-Food Restaurants Are Fighting the To-Go Trend

(Photo Credit: Visual Karsa/Unsplash)
(Photo Credit: Visual Karsa/Unsplash)

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In the movie The Founder, future owner Ray Kroc orders his first hamburger at the original McDonald’s, asking the cashier, “Where do I eat it?” The confused employee responds: “In your car…at the park…at home. Wherever you like.”

Today, fast-food customers are still eating anywhere — except the restaurants themselves. To make in-store dining more appealing, companies aim to spruce up local franchises with renovations, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Take a Seat

Due to the popularity of delivery apps surging during and since the pandemic, dining in is falling out of fashion. Dine-in customers represent less than 10% of visits at US McDonald’s, and 14% across all US fast-food restaurants in the first five months of 2023, the WSJ reported. As a result, McDonald’s and Burger King have shifted toward to-go and drive-thru services. But they’re not giving up on a facelift for many outlets.

A Burger King spokesperson told the WSJ that a remodel brings an average sales surge of 12% in the first year. McDonald’s pledged billions of dollars in 2017 to help franchisees outfit their locations with attractive seating and digital kiosks that operate like a pseudo-table service portal — out with the burger seats and more like the modern feng shui of an Apple store. However, franchise owners often end up covering a lot of the bill:

  • Even for owners with an affinity for the dine-in experience, renovations can be quite expensive. McDonald’s franchisees are required to renovate their dining rooms, front counters, and bathrooms every decade, which can cost as much as $750,000, the WSJ reported.
  • In 2018, a group of franchisees formed the National Owners Association to push back on remodeling requirements. They hope to limit the once-a-decade cost to $300,000.

Country Kitchen: McDonald’s renovations aren’t one-size-fits-all, and corporate headquarters will work with owners with bold ideas, like Wendy and Rick Lommen, who own a location in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, that was featured in Architectural Digest as one of “The 13 Most Beautiful McDonald’s in the World.” It looks less like a quick burger stop and more like a log cabin, stocked with wood carvings, deer antlers, and a large arcade. Perhaps a little cultural and geographic flair is the key to getting in-store customers back.