Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Innovation in a McDonald's Kitchen

How would you feel if you walked into a McDonald’s restaurant and saw that the menu had changed to $7 zucchini burgers and $11 seaweed-encrusted mahi mahi?  Probably confused and unhappy.  So, when McDonalds chefs need to come up with new and “innovative” recipes, they have to be very careful. 

I found this article interesting because most of what we have studied in class has been centered on more radical innovations.  McDonald’s, on the other hand, has picky consumers, lots of competitors, and an unchanging notion of what fast food “should” be.  People expect their food to be fast, cheap, tasty, and fairly basic. Therefore, their innovation has to stay very basic.

Process innovations for McDonald’s would be problematic.  The chefs at each store are trained in how to cook, prepare, and serve their food in very specific and cost-effective ways.  Paradigm shifts would also be difficult for McDonald’s.  It is such a huge organization that changing its basic business model would be a colossal feat.  So, the McDonald’s chef has to change their product, but only incrementally.

            Given all of these constraints, it seems to me that while he is not creating anything shocking or phenomenal, the McDonald’s chef is a real modern innovator.  Because of how set in its ways McDonald’s is, and the caliber of ingredients and cooking methods they must stick to, it is awe-inspiring that McDonald’s can come up with new recipes at all.  Despite their challenges, they are constantly improving upon their recipes, and that to me represents true, applicable innovation.


  1. Interesting post, Kelsey. This to me stresses the importance, again, of market research. Organizations simply cannot be successful innovators unless they have a deep knowledge of their target audience, what they want and what they don't want. Popular brand names and cultural icons like McDonald's really do have to consider deeply ingrained associations their consumers have with their products - a lot of avid McDonald's customers are quite attached to their Big Mac meals! That's probably why, while they do have some customization to suit local tastes, McDonald's pretty much has the same menu at any location around the world.

    This reminds me of New Coke, an innovation that failed miserably simply because Coke drinkers didn't want ANY changes to a product they knew and loved.

  2. McDonald's was also, if I remember correctly, the first of the major burger-centric fast-food chains (Burger King, Wendy's, Hardees) to offer healthy menu options (relatively speaking). Yogurt parfaits, apple slices, milk for kid's meals - McDonald's hit the market first with them. I agree entirely that McDonald's is an innovator in it's industry.