Amy Choate-Nielsen: New McDonald's goes upscale
Utah restaurant is a prototype of the new image chain envisions
Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
SARATOGA SPRINGS Customers who visit Saratoga Springs' new McDonald's could get a "super-sized" shock when they set foot inside the new coffee shop-like restaurant.
And when it comes time to throw the trash away, look out.
A motion-detecting, automatic-opening garbage receptacle and a robotic voice saying "thank you" and "please wait" might make you wonder where you are.
The three-week-old restaurant in Saratoga Springs is the first of its kind in Utah, but as a prototype of a McDonald's image revolution that will soon be sweeping the world, the atmosphere could soon become familiar.
"I just love (customers) to come in and say, 'Wow, this isn't your typical McDonald's,"' said owner and operator Rob Sparrer, whose family owns 24 other McDonald's in Utah and Salt Lake counties. "We've changed the look of our lobbies to be a little more comfortable, to be a place where people want to come to sit down and enjoy a meal. ... We're just really kind of trying to make (the atmosphere) a little more relevant to our customers."
Making the restaurant more relevant to customers means making McDonald's more upscale, Sparrer said, with trendy, upholstered booths, a stone fireplace and comfy lounge chairs.
Gone are the iconic Golden Arches. Instead, there's a short, modern sign on a tuft of grass outside.
Instead of a cardboard cutout of the "Hamburglar" next to the counter, there's a bowl full of Granny Smith apples and a glass display of salads. There are warm tones of sage green and brown, not the traditional bright yellow and red.
Some new and remodeled McDonald's restaurants will feature plasma screens playing the news, and others will have wireless Internet connections. Sparrer says Saratoga Springs' restaurant will have a wireless connection as soon as the area's infrastructure is installed.
"People have changed, their tastes have changed," McDonald's spokeswoman Barbara Schmeitt said about the reason for the company's makeover. "It's like everything else. You've got to start at the cutting edge and be progressive, and as people have changed, McDonald's has responded to their tastes."
The move by McDonald's to gain the pop culture status of Starbucks and the iPod says something about American consumers, says Kerry Soper, director of American Studies at Brigham Young University.
As the Internet has become more prevalent, consumers have become more savvy, informed and picky, Soper says. Consumers who want to represent their individual tastes and personality as honed by catchy mass-marketing might shun going somewhere that is predictable and old in favor of a place that is different and trendy.
"The old McDonald's represents a standardized, homogenized brand that made money because it could count on people buying into the comfort of predictable sameness and un-exotic comfort food," Soper said.
"You see now that the consumers are expecting more from (their restaurants). ... Now you can represent your own individuality while you're participating in this mass sameness. (It gives) the sense that you're hiply participating in your new choice that makes you independent of your old homogenized fast food."
On the other hand, while the new restaurant looks nice, for Saratoga Springs city officials, the presence of a McDonald's in the town of 15,000 people is even better.
With more than 31,000 locally owned businesses worldwide and about 50 million customers a day, McDonald's has earned a reputation for stability that is good karma for small towns that are looking to build their business base.
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