Which is an eternity in the drive-thru.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated June 21, 2017
mcdonalds fresher beef may mean slower service
Credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images

The current state of the fast food industry is a bit of a paradox: Customers want higher quality food, but they don’t want to sacrifice convenience. Needless to say, achieving speed without reducing quality is always tricky business, even in our modern Tweet-it-and-move-on world – but it’s a lesson McDonald’s may be learning the hard way.

Earlier this year, McDonald’s made a major announcement: After testing a switch from frozen to fresh beef in some of their burgers, the chain decided to start cooking their famous Quarter Pounders to order from fresh meat at all locations nationwide by mid-2018. The move, which is intended to improve taste and juiciness, puts MickeyD’s in line with other major burger chains like Wendy’s and Shake Shack that are often cited as serving higher quality burgers.

But Reuters recently revealed what Ronald McDonald (and probably Grimace) doesn’t want you to know: Those tests – which have been happening for nearly two years in about 400 locations in Oklahoma and Texas – show that using fresh beef means that customers have to wait about a minute extra from order to eating. The primary reason is that even though fresh beef cooks faster than frozen beef, cooking-to-order means that the burgers can no longer be prepared in batches in advance. And if you want your Quarter Pounder well-done, expect to wait even a little longer. “We have to explain that it takes a bit longer,” Claudia Barcenas, a McDonald’s assistant manager in Dallas, told Reuters. “Perhaps a minute.”

If “perhaps a minute” doesn’t feel like much to ask for a better burger, take into account the average McDonald’s customer. Drive-thru patrons make up about 70 percent of the company’s US revenue. For these customers, being asked to move out of the drive-thru lane to wait in a parking spot while their meal is prepared is probably akin to asking them to spend 60 seconds in purgatory. On top of that, research shows that McDonald’s drive-thru wait times are already over 3.5 minutes, significantly slower than some of their competitors. So an extra minute can’t simply be ignored.

However, Reuters’ revelation is especially interesting being that, when McDonald’s U.S. president Chris Kempczinski made the announcement of the switch back in March, he said that the change only added a few seconds to wait times, something most customers wouldn’t even notice. That would appear to be a major contradiction from this new number which Reuters attributes to “restaurant managers and analysts.” Maybe like the idea of detaching speed from quality as a whole, Kempczinski’s statement was just wishful thinking.