Competitive Watch: McMakeovers Underway

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Competitive Watch: McMakeovers Underway

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- After 50 years and billions of customers, McDonald's is getting a face-lift. Plasma-screen TVs, soft couches, coffee tables and wireless Internet access are just some of the new features customers will begin to see at their local McDonald's.

"It's a place where you can sit and see and be seen," said Sophia Galassi, vice president of restaurant development for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's.

ABC News reported that all 13,000 McDonald's restaurants in the United States will eventually get the McMakeover, half of them by the end of this year.

The fast-food giant's iconic red or brown "double mansard" rooftops -- designed to catch the eye of passing motorists -- will be replaced by something more sleek and modern. The traditionally kid-focused, kid-proof interior is now decidedly grown up. There's mood lighting, trendy artwork and fireplaces.

The message: The dining area is no longer just for dining.

"We want to have you come in and relax and enjoy, be comfortable," Galassi told ABC News. Comfort was not what McDonald's founder Ray Kroc had in mind when he installed hard, plastic, unmovable furniture in his restaurants decades ago. Kroc wanted customers, especially rowdy teenagers, in and out quickly.

"He figured he was in a high turnover business, and if people hung around, they were only going to be causing trouble," said Philip Langdon, who wrote about McDonald's architectural history in his book, "Orange Roofs, Golden Arches."

"[Kroc] eliminated pay phones. He eliminated newspaper boxes," said Langdon. "He eliminated any reason for people to want to stick around, but of course, they did."

Today, that vision has changed. The new relaxed interiors invite people to linger.

"Consumers are eating out a lot nowadays, and they are wanting an experience, not just the food," said Sanjay Dhar, a professor at the University of Chicago business school. "If a retailer can make you stay at their location longer, you will have more satisfaction, and you'll buy more."

Call it the Starbucks effect. It's a recipe that has helped the coffee giant attract young professionals, the very customers McDonald's needs, ABC said.

"To continue the brand going forward, we want to win and need to win the hearts and minds of the young adults," said Galassi.

The restaurant redesign is part of a three-year-old campaign to trim the fat from McDonald's greasy image. Along with burgers and fries, the menu now includes salads and fruit, as well as premium coffee. Even Ronald McDonald was given a recent makeover. He now appears thinner and more athletic in advertising.

"We've evolved our menu. We've evolved our marketing, and it's time to evolve what McDonald's environment is on the inside space," said Galassi.

But not everyone is sold on the new look of the restaurants.

"I get a lot of complaints from franchisees that don't want to move away from the traditional McDonald's look," said Richard Adams, a former McDonald's executive who now works as a consultant to franchise operators.

With most customers ordering at the drive-through, some say the new interiors are pointless, even out of place. "I don't know whether it's going to translate," said Langdon. "It's hard to imagine putting a couch in a McDonald's. It just doesn't go."

Others object to the cost. The franchisees are paying most of the bill, anywhere from $300,000 to a million dollars per restaurant, even though McDonald's owns the property.

"I think McDonald's should contribute more to the rebuilding and remodeling of the restaurant," said Adams. "They're behaving like a heavy-handed landlord."

Some things are timeless, however. The famous golden arches will not be changed, the report said.