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McDonald's tests diner concept to boost sales

French-fry-loving children the world over will be horrified to know that cauliflower and green beans might someday be available at McDonald's.

The fast-food icon is banking on a more favorable reaction from parents with its first diner-style restaurant.

Along with pumped-in '50s music, chrome accents and red-topped bar stools, the new "McDonald's with the Diner Inside" features everything from sliced turkey and stuffing to whipped-cream-topped Belgian waffles.

"What we're trying to do is add another dimension to McDonald's," Tom Ryan, senior vice president of marketing for McDonald's USA, said during a tour Thursday. "When you have time to sit down and have a meal, it's a different experience."

While the new restaurant has the full array of traditional McDonald's fare _ and the same counter and drive-through service _ those who opt for the diner experience can seat themselves, peruse a four-page menu and pick up one of the red phones mounted at each table to place an order.

Customers also can call ahead and pick up orders off the diner menu.

Alan Feldman, president of McDonald's USA, said the restaurant in this auto-factory city of about 45,000 people 40 miles north of Indianapolis is a test site. Other ideas the company has in the works include a cafe-style restaurant and a regular McDonald's equipped with digital menu boards.

Feldman said the company hopes to double its business in the United States in 10 years without doubling its number of restaurants. He said existing restaurants can be converted to accommodate the diner concept.

"This is a concept car," Ryan said. "There's a lot we need to learn. We have an extensive market research plan in place."

That plan includes watching how residents of this Middle American town react to the new idea, then deciding whether to open similar restaurants elsewhere.

But why tamper with a fast-food formula that's worked well since the 1950s? Feldman said the aging baby boomer generation is one significant reason.

"We want our customers to stay with us as they age," he said. "Obviously, I think this is a more family-oriented idea. I think people want more out of the traditional brands that they've grown to trust."

Douglas Christopher, an analyst with Crowell, Weedon & Co. in Los Angeles, said some of the company's other experiments have strayed too far from the core brand.

"It's the first reasonable new test I've heard out of them in a long time," Christopher said. "It's within the McDonald's concept and it's certainly a different spin. It sounds like it will make for an easier experience."

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