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Turnaround report: McDonald’s tries crowdsourcing; Hamburglar doesn’t steal the show; Bonefish to simplify; Cosi finds the lifting heavy

McDonald’s asks its neighbors for ideas

Local marketing efforts don’t always mesh with McDonald’s nationwide strategy, as CEO Steve Easterbrook acknowledged last week. But the franchisor must be okay with the bootleg program underway in its home market of Chicago. How could it miss the grassroots stab at a customer connection? The very heart of McDonald’s Land is being used for what is apparently the chain’s first flirtation with crowdsourcing menu additions.

“Chicagoland needs an iconic burger and McDonald’s wants you to build it,” explains the homepage of the chain’s new Burger Build Off website.

The site allows a visitor to play menu R&D chef by combining elements to form a virtual burger. They select what bun they want, what sauce, what cheeses, etc.

The palette isn’t limited to what’s usually stocked in a McDonald’s kitchen. For instance, one of the bun options is a pretzel bread. The ingredients include what’s labeled a Southwest Salad Blend, and burger builders can top their masterpiece with a cranberry-raisin medley.

The burger imagineers have to carry through the R&D process by naming their concoction and showcasing it with the most complementary presentation backdrop.

Visitors to the site will be asked to vote on which burger is their favorite. The 10 top vote-getters will be invited to McDonald’s test kitchen in the Chicago burb of Oak Brook to actually prepare their brainchild.

A panel of judges will then evaluate the actual burgers on such criteria as how marketable it is and how readily it could be produced in McDonald’s current kitchens. In short, the winner has to be a feasible menu addition.

Judges will select two of the burgers for an actual sales test in the Chicago area. The one that generates the most sales will earn its creator a $5,000 pay-out, an all-expenses-paid weeklong trip for four to Universal Studios in Orlando, and the right to sneer at McDonald’s R&D chef Dan Coudreaut.

Actually, we’re not sure of the latter prize, but it makes sense.

Sirloin burgers prove a bust

A career counselor would likely advise the Hamburglar to sit out the crowdsourcing experiment. He didn’t exactly ace his first go-round as champion of a special McDonald’s burger.

A modernized, more human-looking version of the self-confessed sandwich-stealing mascot failed to make a hit of McDonald’s one-third-pound sirloin burger, an early attempt to rediscover its menu mojo. The product is being dropped because it didn’t deliver the cachet (and sales) McDonald’s had expected.

Bonefish Grill to get time in the shop

A bad second quarter has officially landed the Bloomin’ Brands concept on the list of restaurant operations in need of a turnaround. Comps slid 4.6 percent, prompting Bloomin’ to halt development of its seafood venture until sales can be revived.

The core problems, according to Bloomin’ CEO Liz Smith, are unforeseen side effects of a menu and marketing shift that commenced more than a year ago. The updates were intended to position Bonefish as more of a polished-casual concept than a me-too competitor to midmarket brands like Red Lobster.

The nudge upmarket required Bonefish to stop discounting, which hurt traffic more than Smith and her team had expected. It also complicated kitchen operations, according to Smith. “Service suffered,” she said.

Bloomin’ expects sales to continue falling on a comparable basis through the rest of the year. It dispatched its turnaround specialist, Gregg Scarlett, to plot a recovery course as Bonefish’s new president.

Cosi reports positive results and plenty of sweating

The Cosi fast-casual chain posted comparable sales for the four weeks ended July 27 of 1.4 percent, indicating its long list of format and service tweaks may be delivering results.

The upswing for company-run stores was stronger, at 1.8 percent, and the results didn’t include the input of the stores that are serving as models for the turnaround effort, the Boston units formerly franchised to the Hearthstone group. Cosi CEO RJ Dourney ran that company before taking the helm of the franchisor and buying Hearthstone.

But Dourney indicated he has no illusions about how much strain still lies ahead for the sandwich and salad concept.

“I continue to be very encouraged by the positive impact we see,” he said in a statement. “At the same time, I acknowledge that it has been more challenging than we had anticipated to ensure full implementation of all, not just some, of the initiatives.”

Dourney is making fine and not-so-fine adjustments to Cosi’s operations and menus, from improving the quality of the coffee it serves to rethinking the way customers queue up for service.

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