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What we can all learn from McDonald’s: Peter Nowak

You can’t be everything for everyone


So… many… choices…

Believe it or not, we can all learn a thing or two from McDonald’s.

The company last week said fourth-quarter earnings would again fall short of analyst expectations, marking the fifth straight quarter of that happening. In a conference call with investors, chief operating officer Tim Fenton finally admitted the company had a problem: “We overcomplicated the restaurants and didn’t give restaurants an opportunity to breathe. We need to do fewer products with better execution.”

Just how complicated has McDonald’s menu become? Burger Business has crunched the numbers and found that the size of the menu has increased 75% since 2004, going from 69 to 121 permanent items in that time. And that doesn’t include limited-time items such as Fish McBites, the Steak & Egg Burrito and the Quarter Pounder BLT, all of which were introduced in the past year or so.

The crux of the problem is that McDonald’s has been trying hard to be all things to all people. Ever since Morgan Spurlock’s infamous documentary Super Size Me in 2004, the chain has been under pressure to add healthier items. It has also felt the need to compete outside of its core competency, first with coffee chains such as Starbucks and Tim Hortons in Canada, and then with the relatively new trend of premium burger or fast-casual restaurants. Lastly, it has also been obligated to compete against other fast-food chains with budget-priced items.

The result has been a ballooning menu that staff have had trouble keeping up with. On the customer front, that has translated into increased wait times – the chain’s drive-thru’s scored their worst-ever results in 2013. And when a fast-food restaurant can’t do the “fast” part right, it starts to lose sales, which explains McDonald’s prolonged financial doldrums.

The lesson here for every business – and every individual, for that matter – is that while it may seem tempting to try and please everyone, the opposite often happens. By spreading your energies too far and too thin, you ultimately end up pleasing nobody because you don’t do anything well.

This applies to restaurants that sell too many things, large companies that expand into too many product lines, and even individuals who try to juggle too many tasks at once. Everyone could do with a little less super-sizing and a little more focus.