Hundreds of McDonald's locations in California are about to get ever-so-slightly fancier. No, they won't be offering cloth napkins or crystal goblets for your Diet Coke — instead, they're implementing a more fast-casual style of table service.
The new service model, which was just rolled out in 600 Southern California stores, means that customers will still place their orders at the counter as they've always done, explains the Los Angeles Business Journal; but then, instead of hanging around waiting, they'll have a seat and wait for an employee to bring their Big Mac and fries to them.
But why is a company whose business model has always hinged on speed and efficiency — you know, fast food — futzing around with an expanded service model? Fortune says it's part of McDonald's efforts to "compete with higher-end burger upstarts like Five Guys and Shake Shack," a theory further supported by the chain's recent introduction of premium build-your-own burgers and chicken sandwiches to 2,000 outlets. The pseudo-artisan "ChefCrafted" burgers can be customized with premium toppings like maple bacon and blue cheese, and along with that come a heftier pricetag and longer wait times. (It's just the latest of numerous attempts to take on higher-brow burger offerings: There's also the recently introduced "Create Your Taste" touch-screen kiosks.)
It all adds up to a picture of one very confused restaurant chain: While the company recently trimmed down its drive-thru menus to speed up service and improve customer experience, it continues to complicate things with a steady stream of new implementations like all-day breakfast and the aforementioned bespoke burgers.
Reached for comment by Eater, a McDonald's spokesperson had this to say about the table service test: "The market has been listening to its customers and is introducing elements to test that address what customers are looking for so that we can become a better McDonald’s. We know that eating out is about the whole experience from start to finish. This extra touch of hospitality makes every visit more enjoyable from the time customers order until they are ready to leave."
Jesse York, director of consulting firm Conway MacKenzie, tells Eater that while McDonald's clearly has good intentions, it'd probably better for the chain to keep it simple. "Offering all-day breakfast, more premium offerings and sourcing higher quality ingredients makes sense and shows that McDonald's is trying to tap into several major trends that customers and younger generations care about," says York. "Making an operational shift to incorporate table service, additional menu items and more customer choice will add a lot of complexity and could impact the customer experience negatively. Executing on a few menu items well, and efficiently, has recently been a better recipe for success than trying to be everything to everyone."
While McDonald's may still be figuring out what the heck it wants to be when it grows up, sales are at least headed in the right direction: In October the chain reported an increase in sales for the first time since 2013.