Same Food, Different Service:  What’s the Secret to Success at McDonald’s?

By Jeremiah Walsh

A Memorable Visit and a Satisfied Customer

On a recent trip through New Jersey, I stopped at a McDonald's for lunch. A very polite woman behind the counter with a clean, pressed McDonald's uniform smiled and said, “May I help you?” I ordered my usual, a number 2 – two cheeseburgers with fries and a diet Coke. As she handed me the tray with the food she said, “Thank you for stopping by and have a great day.”

I found a table, sat, and opened the first burger. It looked like something seen in a commercial – a fluffy bun with the meat and cheese perfectly symmetrical. Before leaving, I went to the men's room and noticed how clean it was. I also noticed that there was light music playing over the speakers. 

I was very impressed with this fast food restaurant and sought out the manager to share my observations. Back at the counter, I saw a man with a tie and asked if he was the manager. He said, “Yes, may I help you?” I told him about the politeness of the counter person and her neat, pressed appearance. I mentioned the symmetry of the cheeseburger (he laughed). I told him how clean the restroom was and about the pleasant atmosphere with music playing. His response was, “Thank you very much for taking the time to tell me this. I will share it with the team. They work very hard to accomplish this.”

Another Location—A Very Different Service Experience

A few weeks later, I was in New Jersey again and had some time between client meetings. I wanted to grab a quick lunch and saw a McDonald's so I parked and went in.  A woman behind the counter with a wrinkled and stained uniform said, “Well?” I again ordered my favorite – the number 2. She gave me the tray without saying anything and I found a seat to have my lunch.

As I opened the first of the two cheeseburgers, I saw a crushed bun with the meat coming out of one side and the cheese over toward the other side. The bun looked like someone tried to fold it in half. It was awful. I opened the other and found the same thing. 

I decided I was not going to accept this and headed back to the counter to complain. There was a man behind the counter with a tie on and I asked if he was the manager. He said, “Yeah, what's your problem?” I showed him my burgers and told him that the problem was my food. Then, I asked for my money back. 

The manager looked at the buns and turned toward the kitchen and began screaming at a woman working back there. I felt embarrassed for her and guilty that I was the reason that he was yelling at her. He then told me I could have anything I want. I said, “I just want my money; I don't want to eat here.” He turned to the woman at the counter and said, “Give this guy his money back.”

Everything's the Same, Except for…The Manager

When leaving the second McDonald's I thought of the first encounter only a couple of weeks earlier. Here were two restaurants with the same supplies, the same equipment, the same facilities, the same uniforms, layout, tables, labor pool, signs, etc. These two buildings were identical with one exception – the manager.

While one manager saw his staff as a team with a mission to create exceptional service, the other was simply managing an operation without a service vision or purpose. What a difference it made for me as a customer. 

What Can You Do to Ensure Consistent Service?

When you manage a group, whether it is a retail operation, call center, or internal support function, your own service attitude guides every choice you make – every decision. Have you thought about your service vision? Does your team provide exceptional service to your customers in every interaction? If not, why not? If you are unclear about your own vision, then just watch your team, they are likely expressing it to your customers.


Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.