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McDonald's getting contemporary makeovers

Joe David compared a McDonald's his son just opened near Spring Hill to the one his own father opened in 1962 near Clearwater High School.

"This new store is on a different planet," said the 63-year-old owner of 12 McDonald's.

Under neon golden arches, his father's store sold burgers for 15 cents, fries for a dime. There was only walk-up window service, no dining room or drive-through.

His son's store, a prototype McDonald's on Spring Hill Drive by the Suncoast Parkway in Hernando County, comes fully loaded with extras that have been spreading across the chain the past few years: a double drive-through loaded with enough technology to get lines of motorists in and out in an average of 2.5 minutes, a menu aimed at silencing nutritionists with some healthier choices, and a parade of new items that soon will extend to hot oatmeal 24/7.

But it's packaged in a new box designed to become only the third major generation of the McDonald's look. The red has been toned down to terra-cotta. The golden arches are now positioned between yellow awnings and a gently curved, lit yellow line called the "eyebrow" that tops the marquee. The interior comes with a dark wood-like ceiling and floor, cut stone walls and Corian countertops. It looks more like Starbucks than the province of Mayor McCheese.

The contemporary vibe, oversized booths, flat-screen TVs, free wi-fi and 16-person communal table fit the McDonald's menu, which has shifted to people who snack around the clock.

"It's a comfortable space to hang out," said Josh David, the 32-year-old owner. "We get moms and businesspeople, after school it's students and, in the evening, sports teams."

While McDonald's continues building a wide variety of stores, such "re-imaging" is replacing thousands of McDonald's with a red tile mansard roof that dotted the interstates and suburbia since the 1970s. So far the company has remodeled 7,000 of its 12,000 U.S. restaurants. The bay area is next with 17 of 187 stores switching to the new look within a year.

McDonald's sales jump 7 percent in remodeled stores, but the company eased off the pedal this year with 300 remodels. It plans 600 remodels in 2011 plus 100 new stores.

"We want to be sure we're doing it right," said Jim Skinner, chief executive of the Oak Brook, Ill., chain that did $22.7 billion in sales in 2009. The emphasis is shaving seconds at the takeout window where McDonald's now gets two-third of its sales.

The voice that takes five seconds to greet and ask for an order is recorded. Two people take orders from the middle of the kitchen while a clerk at the first window only makes change. Clamshell grills fry both sides of burgers at once, a machine converts fruit to a smoothie in 3.5 seconds, and beverages are poured automatically so clerks just snap on a lid. To ensure accuracy, each vehicle is photographed, then matched on a TV screen as the order goes out the window.

Josh David, meanwhile, may try an express lane for customers who know exactly what they want. "Dad got stuck behind a minivan of people who couldn't make up their mind," he said.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

McDonald's getting contemporary makeovers 11/01/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 11:38am]
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