This article was first published in the November edition of Media Pulse – Omnicom Media Group’s monthly highlights on relevant media insights, intelligence and trends.
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The toughest reservation in town is… McDonald’s? McDonald’s Sweden is trying something new this fall by offering customers the chance to reserve a seat through the Bookatable app. The decidedly-upscale dining experience will feature a two-course meal, the star being the country’s new “Maestro Burger.” Should we expect to see white tablecloths at all our favorite drive-thru spots soon, or is it all just a marketing ploy?

Fast-casual dining is steamrolling traditional fast food eating. It’s a $21 billion market in America alone, defined as much by price point as it is by service standards, and it’s changing the way we eat out. Some are calling it “The Chipotle Effect,” but there are likely a number of factors leading to a subtle upscale shift in fast food dining. Not only is customer preference shifting to a fast-casual dining model, minimum wage hikes and increasing concern over calories and food quality are all challenging fast food juggernauts to get creative. And lucky for us, creative in this context means things like table service and basil soup.

McDonald’s, per usual, has been quietly leading the upscale renaissance globally. The Sweden promotion is just the most recent in a slew of inventive experiments which even include a sit-down burger concept in Australia called “The Corner.” Nearly unrecognizable as an affiliate of McDonald’s, The Corner’s trying food like pulled pork sandwiches and craft sodas that could even make their way to your local U.S. Mickey D’s if successful. But McDonald’s is not alone; Yum Brands is launching an Italian concept called “Atto Primo” in Shanghai, Starbucks is betting on a spinoff shop called “Reserve,” and even Taco Bell’s opening upscale “Cantina” restaurants in trendy ‘hoods. It’s a whole new ballgame out there for drive-thru devotees.

Will an influx of fresh ideas help reinvigorate the flagging fast food industry? Some McDonald’s locations in Canada and France outfitted with ordering kiosks offering high-brow options like blue cheese and Applewood smoked bacon say customers have been spending a full 30% more than usual. And Chick-fil-a, the current darling of American fast food, certainly owes some success to friendly staff and over-the-top customer service. Customers have been asking for more wholesome, fulfilling quick-serve dining experience—even at a cost—and the big brands are finally listening. Who knows, maybe the next McDonald’s ad you see will be starring a sauce sommelier.