13 April 2015

McDonald's introduces a Create your Own burger option

Dinner at McDonald's JEM: a small French fries, Heaven & Earth green tea, and an Angus beef burger that I designed myself, with a slice of Colby cheese, tomato, lettuce, garlic sauce and tomato jalapeno sauce.

The McDonald's at JEM has introduced self-service order kiosks which allow diners not only to order what's on the standard menu, but also to create do-it-yourself burgers with premium ingredients. According to the friendly McDonald's staff who was there to help people creating their own burgers, custom burgers may only be ordered through the kiosks, and not at the counter.

The basic burger with an Angus beef patty costs S$8.95 but may be more expensive as a meal (add S$2 for small fries and a soft drink) or if various options are added. While much care has clearly gone into the design of the software, the actual ordering process is somewhat confusing.

Firstly, diners may have to scroll down to view the full set of options. There is no indication that there are more options onscreen, and diners have to be aware that they should swipe up on the screen in order to view the rest of the screen. I, being used to Windows, tried swiping up on the scroll bar to the right. That did not work.

The next question mark had to do with which options are part of the basic burger at S$8.95, and which are not. There is no pricing information on the screens. There are some options clustered on the same screen which are included in the base price, such as red onions, jalapeno peppers, lettuce and tomatoes. You can choose more than one sauce as well. There are other options for which you may only choose one, such as the type of bread, and still others which come with an additional charge. While I'm willing to pay for a customised burger, I would still like to know how much that burger is going to cost as I go along.

I ordered a burger meal and was surprised to see that the bill did not list the French fries, though it noted that I had changed my drink to Heaven & Earth green tea. What I didn't realise was that when the receipt says 'Create Your Own Meal' that it meant that there would be French fries and a drink involved, and if it doesn't say 'meal' that it's just the burger. As a first-timer to reading a custom burger receipt, it worried me that my French fries were not listed, but the McDonald's staff assisting me assured me I would get them, and I did.

My burger meal cost me S$11.45 in the end, $8.95 for the burger, $2 for the meal and $0.50 for switching to green tea (I thought it was $0.30 if you buy a standard meal but it might have gone up while I wasn't looking). Payment is cashless and painless, and the receipt comes with a number that you can use for picking up your order at the counter. Custom burgers come with those buzzing discs that will sound when your order is ready for pickup - you pick one at random from a stack by the side of each kiosk, and tell the software what number it is. Strangely enough, I was told that I don't actually need to wait around for my order - they would actually serve it to me. In this case the disc acted like those numbered signs that tell staff where to find you.

The meal, when it arrived, was very prettily arranged on a wooden Moda breadboard, on dull gold paper. The fries came in a little wire basket that was lined with paper, and my green tea in a clear plastic to-go cup instead of the waxed paper variety. I had a 'hand & face refresher' wet tissue in addition to serviettes which was a nice touch, and a straw in a paper jacket. The only thing which was missing was the tomato or chilli sauce for the fries (if you want them).The assistant, to his credit, had actually asked me to go get the sauces, but it would have meant giving up my seat as a lone diner and sauces in little disposable plastic saucers spoils the mood somewhat.

The taste test? It is definitely much better than the normal McDonald's burger because of the Angus beef - a different texture - and all the other ingredients. The standard burgers don't come with a tomato slice and that always makes such a difference for me. The sauces - I chose a garlic sauce (creamy garlic aioli) and a tomato jalapeno sauce (tomato jalapeno relish) - added a definite sparkle to the taste, and I contemplated asking if I could have extra for the French fries, because it would have tasted SO good with them. 

I left without clearing up because I really wasn't sure what to do with the wire basket - you can't possibly toss that into the bin like you would with the remains of a standard meal. More guidance on how to clear up would be useful.

The verdict? Be warned that the burger isn't huge - you would get more dollar for dollar at Swensen's - but I loved the idea of deciding exactly what I wanted to have in it. I loved the 'plating', which by the way is about the same internationally; I have seen variations with fake newspaper but it's all breadboards and wire baskets. When you consider that some of the standard burger meals at McDonald's are pretty close in price 'Create your Own' is a definite winner, especially if you go with others and can discuss your choices with each other.

I'm told that JEM is the only McDonald's in Singapore with the Create your Own option, though self service kiosks may be introduced to more outlets in future, paving the way for fewer counter staff as diners will do all the ordering and paying by themselves. The next time though I might try the pre-designed options, which look like they would cost more than S$8.95 if you put them together by yourself.