McDonald’s goes for gold

Having started his McDonald’s career as a trainee manager in 1993, Richard Forte is now the company’s UK Senior Vice-President and Chief Operations Officer, overseeing many developments to the brand’s franchise network.

Since he began his career with McDonald’s, Richard Forte has witnessed first hand how the brand has successfully embraced franchising as a means to successfully expand its restaurant network in the UK.

“After 18 months’ training, I was managing my first McDonald’s restaurant before becoming a consultant for a group of restaurants in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire,” he explains. “Back then franchising only accounted for 30 per cent of McDonald’s restaurants and it wasn’t until the late 1990s-early 2000s, when I was an Operations Manager, that franchising really started to grow.

“McDonald’s franchise model and strategy in the UK has helped us go from being 30 per cent franchised four to six years ago, to 64 per cent today.”

When Richard became Chief Operations Officer (COO) in October 2008, McDonald’s had already embarked on a major project to make the world famous brand even more relevant to its daily 2.5 million UK customers.

“There was a very real need to modernise our restaurants,” continues Richard, “so we listened to customers’ needs, as well as meeting the challenge of persuading our franchise owners of the benefits of investing upwards of £300,000 to refurbish their restaurants.”

The past few years have resulted in some obvious cosmetic differences to McDonald’s UK restaurants, including a move from red fascias to green, and the introduction of comfier seating and mood lighting to provide a warmer atmosphere.

“The UK has pioneered the redesigned restaurants and we noticed an increase in customers at our test restaurants,” he says. “The new colour schemes were devised by our European design studios and each territory will have a slightly different colour palette to make them locally relevant.”

The changes have not just been visual; McDonald’s has added new flavours to its menu with the introduction of porridge and bagels for breakfast, as well as extending its Deli Choices range of sandwiches and wraps.

“Our menu now gives our customers a greater choice, including salads, fruit bags, organic milk and fruit juice, while still offering McDonald’s favourites such as the Big Mac,” adds Richard.

Around the same time as McDonald’s started its restaurant refurbishment programme, it was also one of the first to offer customers free wi-fi access.

“Introducing wi-fi in our restaurants attracted a different profile of customers, who we have catered for by offering premium range coffees,” says Richard. “This saw us provide freshly ground Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee beans and organic milk, as well as presenting another opportunity to broaden our menu.”

McDonald’s has also embraced other advances in technology including introducing cashless and contact-less payment in all their UK restaurants.

“Our restaurants currently represent 50 per cent of all contact-less transactions in the UK, reflecting the changes which banks are undergoing and the increased customer appetite for fast and convenient methods of payment. This means that transactions of under £15 can be paid for without the need for chip and pin – customers just wave their card across the reader at the till.”

Key to McDonald’s success has been the brand’s relationship with its franchise owners. “What we want our franchise owners to do is run quality and profitable restaurants, so each one has their own consultant to help them optimise the success of their restaurant,” says Richard.

“We have very high standards when we recruit our franchise owners, who have a vast variety of business backgrounds – from CEOs of small companies, civil servants, farmers, ex-sports men and women and the Armed Forces. As we are looking for commitment, part of our selection process includes nine months of training so that we can get to know the applicant. Investing in McDonald’s is a very big decision.

“Our franchise owners sign up for 20 years, demonstrating their commitment to the franchise. As a result, the relationship we have with them is very collaborative. They are very much involved in the thinking behind the business, so we have different committees and forums dedicated to enabling them to have a say about how we take the brand forward and developing the strategy. The strength of our success is taking on board their ideas and whether they are achievable.”

The collaborative approach of McDonald’s franchise owners is evidenced within communities the length and breadth of the UK, as Richard explains: “Engaging with the community is a core component of the success of our franchise owners. Many of them work closely with local schools, councils, community groups and police forces to help build a local area around their restaurants that everybody can enjoy. Lots of our franchise owners help promote litter collecting initiatives and support community football. ” McDonald’s is looking forward to a very busy 2012. Not only is the company looking at opening 20 new franchised restaurants, starting the second phase of its refurbishment programme and continually evolving its menu – there is also the not inconsiderable matter of the London 2012 Olympic Games to attend to.

“We have been very excited about the Olympics for the past four years,” enthuses Richard. “LOCOG (The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) has stated that London 2012 will be the largest peace time catering operation in the world, and we will be helping to feed the 9.7 million spectators, a workforce of 200,000 and 17,000 athletes and team officials. “As Official Restaurant of the London 2012 Games, we expect our four restaurants on the Olympic Park to serve one in 10 meals at the Games, and during the four-week Games period, be the biggest and busiest McDonald’s restaurants anywhere in the world.

“With cutting-edge designs and graphics, everyone who visits our Olympic Park restaurants will get the best possible customer experience in a great environment. Each restaurant will also help meet LOCOG’s aim of making London the greenest Games ever, being designed for maximum re-use after the Games. Whether it’s the furniture or the kitchens – everything will be re-implemented in our other UK restaurants after the Games.”

Written by Fraser McKay