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McDonald’s Takes Aim at Starbucks With Pricey Espresso Machines

McCafes are being overhauled with some serious barista tech

Espresso poured in a McCafe cup. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Aside from their shared status as global behemoths, McDonald’s and Starbucks have few similarities in terms of perception. The former is viewed by many as the picture of low-cost, low-quality fast food, while the latter projects itself as a hip destination for today’s remote workers to plop down in front of their MacBooks for hours at a time. McDonald’s is trying to change those perceptions.

Already raising its bar in other areas of service, Mickey D’s is looking to become a more serious player in the modern coffee game, reports Bloomberg. The chain is overhauling its McCafe brand with beans sourced from sustainable purveyors and fancy espresso machines that check in at $12,000 a pop. A company spokesperson tells Bloomberg the reboot will allow McCafe to “better cater to customer needs.”

Whether the changes will draw in a new clientele seeking a premium experience remains to be seen, but McDonald’s isn’t turning its back on customers who look to the chain for value. McDonald’s will offer $1 drip coffee in the first quarter of 2017, according to Bloomberg, and it’s planning a $2 “specialty coffee” deal as well.

Still, it can’t be denied that McDonald’s is evolving. The chain has made its McCafe announcement less than a month after it revealed plans to roll out table service at its restaurants across America. It is also deploying more touchscreen kiosks that offer a line of “Signature Crafted Recipes.” Diners get to choose their protein (grilled or fried chicken or a burger patty) and a flavor profile for toppings (apple-bacon-dijon, sweet barbecue-bacon, or pico-guacamole). It’s an increasingly popular ordering style at burgeoning fast-casual chains.

Thanks in large part to the debut of all-day breakfast last fall, McDonald’s has emerged from a years-long sales slump. The chain is clearly trying to take advantage of its newfound momentum and carve out a secure position in the fast food market going forward. If the latest moves are any indication, company executives believe that may mean a transition from the traditional fast food model to a nouveau fast-casual approach.

The timing of the Golden Arches’ McCafe news comes on the heels of Starbucks’ own big announcement: Longtime chief executive officer Howard Schultz is stepping down in April. Schultz will remain with the company in a different role, but McDonald’s is giving incoming CEO Kevin Johnson a new challenge to consider.

McDonald’s Revamps Its $4 Billion McCafe Brand [Bloomberg]
McDonald's Is Rolling Out Table Service Nationwide [E]
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Is Stepping Down [E]

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