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Will Fresh Beef Help or Hurt McDonald’s?

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Cooked-to-order burgers mean longer waits at the drive-thru

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Are drive-thru customers willing to wait a little longer for food that tastes better? As Reuters reports, that’s the question currently plaguing McDonald’s, which has slowly been rolling out fresh — rather than frozen — beef, with the aim of serving cooked-to-order Quarter Pounders in every U.S. store by mid-2018.

The chain first unveiled its fresh beef patties in early 2016, initially testing them in just a handful of stores. Turning to fresh beef in a quest to serve better-tasting food represents just one small part of McDonald’s multi-pronged turnaround plan — the most important part of which has perhaps been all-day breakfast — that’s helped CEO Steve Easterbrook pull the company out of a years-long sales slump.

As fans of burger chains like In-N-Out and Whataburger know, cooking burgers to order takes considerably longer than simply prepping them in batches and storing them under a heat lamp. At McDonald’s, Reuters notes, “An on-demand Quarter Pounder takes about a minute longer to land in a customer's hands than does the original sandwich” — and while that may not seem like much of a difference, 60 seconds can feel like an eternity for a drive-thru patron who’s been asked to pull forward and wait.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that the cooked-to-order Quarter Pounders will comprise just one small part of McDonald’s burger offerings; diners who are in a hurry could just opt for a traditional Big Mac or regular cheeseburger that’s been chilling under a heat lamp instead.

The company is hoping the better-tasting burgers will help boost sales, and so far it looks like it may be working: In April, an industry analyst suggested that in areas where the fresh beef was being tested, sales of Quarter Pounders had risen by as much as 35 percent.

But potential problems surrounding the switch to fresh beef isn’t new news for many franchisees, who have previously expressed concerns about moving away from the traditional frozen burger patties. Besides the issue of slowing down service, some also worry about the increased possibility of a food safety debacle — something Chipotle has proven can be catastrophic for a giant restaurant chain’s bottom line.

Will McDonald’s Customers Wait for the New Quarter Pounder? [Reuters]
Could Fresh Beef Spell Disaster for McDonald’s? [E]