Another one off the bucket list: A McDonald’s Initiator 

It’s not every day you get invited along to a fast food chain to experience life behind the scenes, so when McDonald’s offered a sponsored visit to their Donegall Place store to check out the refit I wasn’t going to say no to an opportunity to learn about this global food restaurant chain.

I’m not a regular fast food customer, but McDonald’s is where we usually end up on holiday for a thick shake. Yes, I’m slightly partial to large McD strawberry shake.

Our visit to the store started with an introduction to the team to learn about their refurbishment and the use of technology to provide a better customer experience. It seems the company continue to lead the way when it comes to embracing new technology. They were amongst the first to take contactless payments, offer free wifi, the introduction of the touch screen kiosks and their hidden use of technology behind the scenes. 

McD fact: Touch screen kiosks have increased the value of sales, probably because customers aren’t under pressure at the till and have time to select different meals.

Behind the scenes technology

In the kitchen it’s not as simple as putting a burger on the grill any more. Everything is increasingly dependant on technology.

The burger grill automatically detects the size of the burger and knows how long to cook it for. The milkshake machine has sensors so it knows when the cup is full and stops pouring. They have spent 5 years developing an ice machine to make the perfect frappe. Even when a customer orders a bespoke product, a sticky label prints out automatically and is attached to the packaging so the staff on the production line know exactly what to prepare. 

McD fact : In NI we request more special orders than anywhere in the U.K. More extra cheese, more plain burgers; we must be a fussy lot here!

It’s all very hi-tech. You can also imagine the chaos and inability to function if that technology crashes. They just couldn’t serve food, because the extensive use of technology controls everything they do.

Backstage we put on our very own caps and aprons; the new uniforms are very smart and contemporary, and we met the team. First up was The Initiator (what a great job title), who kicks the production line off by reading the orders on the screen at the back of the kitchen and preparing the buns and packaging before passing it down the line.

Everything is managed extremely well with everyone in their assigned roles. A sales chart predicts hourly sales and how much preparation is needed, with the busiest daytime hours between 12-2. And again on a Saturday night between 1-3am. Yes it seems there is indeed a demand for this 24 hour restaurant through the night.

With 112 staff and almost 1 million transactions a year, the Donegall Place restaurant is a busy spot in the heart of the city.

I had the opportunity to ask questions about the food and suppliers. The UK food chain is seemingly very different than my perception of the McDonald’s company. They work closely with their UK suppliers and view them as an important part of the business, helping them grow and develop by being open and transparent with them regarding profit margins. They want their suppliers to be with them long term and by playing fair they build long standing relationships.

Staff are equally important, they are all very well trained, and the company help develop their teams by offering support for business courses and degrees.

McDonald’s might be a big global brand, but they are very much about their local community work (more about that on A Cup of Lee blog), their local staff, and their UK and IE suppliers.

Did you know that approx 50% of the UK and European cheese for McDonald’s is from the Kerry Group, makers of Coleraine cheddar. Elsewhere, beef comes from the UK and Ireland. Potatoes are grown in south east of England. The company goal is 50% of chicken to be UK sourced, but demand currently outstrips supply at present and they get chicken from Moy Park in France. FYI here’s the Moy Park chicken policy.

It was an interesting and insightful evening learning about and seeing behind the scenes of one of the biggest companies in the world and they might just have convinced me that the odd McD treat isn’t such a bad thing….and when I do order something, I’ll definitely be going with the local trend and adding extras or removing a dressing from my Big Mac or Chicken Legend.

Jeff Meredith 

Thanks to McDonald’s for sponsoring my time and expenses for this blog post.

Post Author: Belfast Times

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