An Australian McCafe outlet which underwent a drastic makeover that left it unrecognisable as a McDonald’s restaurant has been confirmed as a “learning lab” where the company is trying a new menu and service style.
“The Corner” is in Sydney’s inner west, in an area called Camperdown just a few kilometres from the centre of the city. It’s right opposite one of the city’s biggest hospitals, the Royal Prince Alfred – a sensible location for trying healthy alternatives.
McDonald’s spokesperson Skye Oxenham told Business Insider that “The Corner” had been opened as “a Learning Lab where we are testing completely new and different food and beverages never before seen in our restaurants.”
The menu includes “salads featuring Moroccan roast chicken breast, chipotle pulled pork, brown rice, pumpkin, lentil and eggplant salads, sandwiches and barista made quality coffee.” The restaurant was “yet another example” of how McDonald’s was “committed to serving up real noticeable change”.
McDonald’s image problems are well-known – it been fighting for more than a decade to show it’s interested in nutrition and providing healthy options as well as its high-calorie, high-sugar staples. Globally, sales have been falling year on year, and the company is hiring help to figure out how to engage with young people.
“The Corner” would be a big change in direction for McDonald’s, if the concept was to spread to more of its outlets. The company wouldn’t say what the next steps would be from the project. But here’s what I found when I dropped by this morning.
'The Corner' on Missenden Road in Sydney's Camperdown. No golden arches or familiar branding anywhere. Is it really a McDonald's?
It doesn't feel like a McDonald's. The furniture's different and there are no big backlit signs with colourful menus. It's all a muted brown.
There's also a huge long table with plenty of space near a big window. I'm going to sit there. But let's look around first - there's a lot to see.
It's around 9am in the morning, and the staff are pretty busy even though there are only about 10 customers. It is Christmas Eve after all, and people are off getting ready for the big day tomorrow.
Here's the barista coffee station. The yellow colour is a bit more reminiscent of McDonald's. If you look in the bottom left, you can see an iPad which is used by floor staff to keep track of orders after they're placed.
There are some salads as well - tofu with vegetables, and brown rice with quinoa. I'm not a tofu or quinoa kind of person, though many people are, especially around this part of Sydney.
There's also soy bean & cannelini snacks - not what you expect at a McDonald's outlet. Interesting, but again, not for me. Maybe the chipotle chicken, if it was after 11am.
There's fresh fruit and muesli pots alongside some kind of chocolate mousse product. I'm not sure these go together - but this is a 'lab' after all, so experimenting is to be expected. And the fruit looks good!
Ah, here we go. Gingerbread Ronald McDonald hands with icing, teddy bear cakes, and brownies. Everything looks pretty good. And kids around hospitals often need treats.
There's also a big range of toffee apples and a freckle jar which looks sold out. But there's one more intriguing part of the service counter...
... here it is: the salad, soup, and meat station. You can get sandwiches, or meats with salad or rice. It's not open yet, but it's still early and not many people want Moroccan chicken at 9am.
Here's a look at the menu, which again is very different from typical McDonald's fare. There are instructions for how to order sandwiches and salads.
The rice dish comes with a sauce, while the salad comes with coleslaw. Definitely interesting - maybe enough to come back and try some time. OK, time to eat.
There are a selection of coffee blends. I'm going to take a McCafe blend large flat white, and a bacon and egg roll. And waffles. With ice cream.
You don't grab things from the counter, but are handed a number and asked to take a seat. And there's none of the kerfuffle of beeps and alarms that you normally associate with ordering at a McDonald's. It's all rather civilised. Bonus: the staff are attentive and smile - something also often lacking in a McDonald's.
I chose a brioche roll for my sandwich but could have had panini, too. And the coffee is made by an experienced, well-trained hand.
The roll is presented on one of those little chopping boards. Fancy. It also looks healthier than a typical Sydney bacon and egg roll.
And the verdict - it's pretty damn good. The coffee passes the test, and everything is freshly cooked - the egg's nothing like those scary stewed things you get in a McMuffin. However, the bread has a distinctive combination of sugar and salt that is recognisably McDonald's.
Here's the waffles and ice cream. The presentation isn't quite as good here, but it tastes OK. The ice cream again has that distinctive saltiness to it.
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