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Turnaround Report: McD’s breaks a core fountain tradition; Applebee’s pushes ‘actual size’

McDonald’s jaw-dropping localization example

If you feel the earth shudder, blame 30 McDonald’s units in Detroit, where the featured fountain soda isn’t one that starts with a “C.” In one of the more radical manifestations of the ailing brand’s menu-localization efforts, stores there are reportedly extending their soft drink options to include a hometown favorite, Vernors.

McDonald’s and Coke have been as interdependent as burger and bun since Ray Kroc bought rights to the concept from Mac and Dick McDonald in the 1950s. But stores in Motown are renegades in pushing for local ingredients, riffing on standard McDonald’s preps with local eggs, apples and cherries, according to the local CBS affiliate.

The situation illustrates how far the franchisor will let franchisees drift from the core menu to muster local appeal. In that respect, the news is bigger than the leaked indication that the chain is about to introduce an over-sized quarter-pounder (4.5 ounces, to be exact) that will sport grill marks, as if it just came off the backyard grill.

Also working its way onto menus: Flavored versions of hot McCafe coffee.

How’s the public view McDonald’s and Olive Garden?

The scope of McDonald’s challenges was spotlighted this week by a new ranking of restaurant chains by consumer-satisfaction levels. The burger giant still dominates the industry in sales, despite its problems, but finished dead last among the more than 17 quick-service brands evaluated by consumers in the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index, a gauge with ties to the University of Michigan.

America’s darling fast-food brand, based on the ACSI, is Chick-fil-A, which bested everyone in such key considerations as food quality, menu breadth, order accuracy and cleanliness.

The ranking was kinder to arguably the most-watched turnaround candidate in the full-service sector, Olive Garden. It was ranked third among the more than 12 brands that were assessed by customer satisfaction, ahead of Outback and the Italian chain’s former sister, Red Lobster.

Other turnaround aspirants did not fare as well. Ruby Tuesday was last, and Applebee’s was seventh, two places behind Olive Garden.

Texas Roadhouse was first among the major brands, though it was bested by the ACSI’s “all other” catchall category for full-service players.

Applebee’s relies on ‘actual size’

The troubled brand in DineEquity’s fold is stressing value this summer by emphasizing heft. Its new Handhelds sandwich-and-wrap line features such plate tippers as a pulled-pork sandwich bearing the name Triple Hog Dare Ya, as if you’d have to be crazy to try and down a sandwich of that size.

It’s hardly a new tack in the business, but kudos to the chain for giving the pitch an interesting twist: The Handhelds are depicted in billboard-caliber food-porn shots, with an asterisk next to each photo: Actual Size Shown. The heft of each item is unmistakable.

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