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Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Create Your Taste" Proves That McDonald’s Is Learning

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2016 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge My burger (with receipt.) Look at those pretty pickles. - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • My burger (with receipt.) Look at those pretty pickles.

It’s no longer possible for me to say that I don’t go to McDonald’s, since I’ve now been three times in less than a year: once to write about the McDonald’s on Sutter Street that you’re not supposed to think is a McDonald’s, and twice while going to and from Reno with a gaggle of drag queens on Easter. Make that four times, actually, because I biked to the Mickey D’s at 235 Front Street to check out the freshly renovated restaurant’s Create Your Taste system.

click to enlarge Art! - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • Art!
click to enlarge The ordering screen. (Pardon my reflection.) - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • The ordering screen. (Pardon my reflection.)
Like the McDonald’s on Sutter, the place has been wholly transformed with a sea of earth tones, Nordic-lite fixtures, and wall art that spells out “LOVE.” (There’s even a big brown couch you can eat off of, although I went with a stool at the poured concrete counter.) To make your own burger, you go to one of six ordering kiosks — which look like giant Game Boys — and punch it your order in on a user-friendly touchscreen.
The number of choices is impressive. I ordered a quarter-pound burger on an artisan roll with a grilled tomato, crinkle-cut pickles, bacon, and both pepper jack and shaved Parmesan (plus fries, a drink, and an Egg McMuffin to placate a colleague). But there are lots of other add-ons, from guacamole to a lettuce wrap to sriracha mayo.

You’re promised your food in eight to 10 minutes, and although mine took about twice as long — 16 minutes, on the nose — it looked pretty good, with none of those military-fatigue-colored pickles or lifeless specks of onion that I remember from growing up. Even the tomato, always fast food’s Achilles heel, looked alive. The patty wasn’t the tastiest meat I’ve ever eaten, but the burger was affordable and filling. The only other downside to this setup is having to endure a hapless worker roaming the floor with a tray of fries, repeating, “Order 154? 154? 154? Just fries? 154?” (It sounded like half an order. Did someone not realize they’d purchased that?)

click to enlarge More art! - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • More art!
The conundrum, then, is that after 20 years of unrelenting bad publicity, from Fast Food Nation to Super Size Me to footage of employees beating up transgender patrons, can McDonald’s do anything right? I don’t mean to ask whether they can turn a consistent profit or demonstrate that the company can be a responsible corporate actor or even make tasty food; I mean is it possible for McDonald’s to get food snobs who’ve been indoctrinated to shun the chain like a wayward Amish to pull a 180 and start eating there again? Here, in the city that once banned Happy Meals?

I don’t really know, but I’ll own up to being a food snob — albeit one who occasionally tempers his snobbery with praise for gratifying crap like Cadbury Creme Eggs. (I also remember the 88-year-old food critic in North Dakota who favorably reviewed a Grand Forks Big Mac and then the internet devoured her.)

click to enlarge The fries come served in a wire fryer basket. - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • The fries come served in a wire fryer basket.
I will say this much: McDonald’s is learning. It feels as if reps from the company ate at local burger chains, took risks, took notes, and absorbed a lot of the lessons of the 21st-century foodie revolution. (The news that McDonald’s is rolling out Gilroy garlic fries in the South Bay is part of this as well.) It’s sort of like the effect that the Sanders campaign has had on Hillary Clinton, nudging her leftward on issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. You don’t have to vote for her because of that switch, but you can’t have it both ways and hold it against her for doing the right thing, either. So as long as people who only get a 30-minute lunch hour can stand to spend half of it waiting for their food, McDonald’s deserves credit. 

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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