By Seth Daniel
If anyone ever wondered how new items make it to the menu of the McDonald’s Restaurant in Everett on Lower Broadway, the quick answer is that it takes a lot of tasting.
McDonald’s Corporate Chef Mike Lingo, based out of the McDonald’s headquarters in Illinois, paid a visit to Jeff Brewster at the Everett McDonald’s this month to promote the new Signature Crafted sandwiches and to unveil the new kiosk machines in the Everett store that allow patrons to order electronically – customizing their sandwiches with several preferences including type of bun and type of meat and flavor.
“There are a lot of things we try,” he said. “There are a lot of checks. In all honesty, about 90 percent of what we try won’t become successful. It’s figuring out what will work and what will not. It makes every day interesting.”
The process not only involves Chef Mike – as he is called – trying out new and interesting taste combinations, but also a number of other processes.
The first step is a focus group, where they bring in customers and advisors to gauge the interest of a product idea.
“For example, we’ve talked about how fried dough would work for McDonald’s,” he said. “We ask the groups what would fried dough look like from McDonald’s. How would it taste? We listen to the feedback and gauge the ideas and see to what degree they might be successful.”
Then, it’s off to the kitchen, Chef Mike said, to experiment.
However, before any of that can conclude and land on a menu, the chefs and procurement divisions must find out if they can get the necessary ingredients.
Are there suppliers in the area that can provide enough ingredients?
Can they scale it up to supply more than 14,000 stores around the country or a region?
That was a challenge they found when they switched gears, he said, to begin baking homemade blueberry muffins. A supplier was able to get them fresh blueberries in order to make the muffins, a real win for the breakfast menu, he said.
It’s also the same process that the Signature Crafted series went through, along with aligning it with the kiosk technology that allows customers to mix and match the various options for their sandwich. One can choose grilled chicken, crispy chicken or a hamburger – combined with different buns and three flavors, including Maple Bacon.
The Signature Crafted concept was on the drawing board for almost six months before it made it to the menu, he said. A new Sriracha flavor is coming soon, he said.
The key part of the new offerings is the ‘Just for You’ kiosks.
Brewster said the kiosk machines have been up and running for a little while, and with great success. The new restaurant, which is one of the most modern stores in the country, opened in March after it had to be re-built in the old store parking lot to accommodate the Wynn Boston Harbor/MBTA Service Road.
Brewster said the kiosks are very popular with customers, and he also said kiosk ordering at McDonald’s doesn’t mean a loss of jobs.
In fact, he said, he’s increased employment since they went into the store.
“One thing we hear sometimes is by bringing in kiosks we’re trying to eliminate positions,” he said. “It’s a tricky thing. In the old store we had about 60 employees. Since the kiosks and the new store, we’ve actually added a lot more positions. When we opened in March, we had 91 employees and now we’re up to 108 employees. It’s actually not about eliminating people, but making McDonald’s more friendly.”
Brewster said by not being tied to a cashier machine, employees are able to deliver food to customers at their tables via an advanced tracking system that coordinates orders with a number on a table. It also allows them to get out from behind the counter, he said, and greet customers and check up on them more often.
Chef Mike said the Everett McDonald’s is a great example of the newest technology that is being used all over the world in the kitchens of the stores.
A new oven system allows flexibility for the cooks, and also is more precise. Having the kitchen upstairs in the Everett store is an efficiency borrowed from stores in London and Hong Kong – where space is at a premium.
Chef Mike said he started out working with food in a deli at age 14, and his career path brought him to McDonald’s after many twists and turns. He said, after all of that, he is excited every day he reports to work.
“Every day is different,” he said.