Should McDonald’s serve burgers in the morning?

Just years after company added breakfast all day, a new demand has emerged, but complexity is the chain’s biggest problem, says RB’s The Bottom Line.
Photograph: Shutterstock


All-day breakfast is so 2016. Consumers now apparently want all-day burgers.

At least that’s according to the Wall Street Journal, which today wrote about McDonald’s efforts to get customers to start eating breakfast in the mornings again.

The piece rightly notes that consumer demands change constantly and suggests that all-day breakfast could be taking away from morning sales. 

But then it says this:

Numerous McDonald’s customers want burgers in the morning, according to thousands of people who have tweeted about it. A spokeswoman for the burger giant said demand isn’t strong enough to warrant running the burger grill in the morning.

I imagine that some of McDonald’s franchisees read that paragraph and began screaming.

There are two fundamental problems with the idea of offering burgers in the morning. First, as McDonald’s noted, there probably isn’t the demand to do that, and second, McDonald’s is already too complex, which is its bigger problem than the fact that its morning occasion is somehow insufficient for modern consumer demands.

Let’s go back three years when McDonald’s introduced all-day breakfast. At the time, the chain was badly in need of a victory. It had struggled with three years of weak sales and traffic. Its management team was overhauled and the company had problems in many markets all over the world.

All-day breakfast generated some excitement because it made some of the chain’s most well-loved products available all the time.

At the same time, however, breakfast all day wasn’t exactly a novel concept. Plenty of chains already served morning items during lunch and dinner. Doing so didn’t necessarily hurt their morning sales, either.

There is much less precedent for a burgers-in-the-morning program, and, even if there was, it’s not clear whether it would generate anywhere near that level of success or interest.

McDonald’s own comment is the best evidence there is that demand isn’t there: It’s one thing to say you want morning burgers on Twitter. It’s something entirely different to ask the company to fire up the burger grill.

And when McDonald’s added all-day breakfast, doing so added a layer of complexity to what already was a hugely complex operation. Nobody in fast food has as broad a menu.

In the years since, that menu has only grown more complex. There are different chicken sandwiches now. The company introduced fresh-beef quarter-pound burgers earlier this year. And by executives’ own admission, McDonald’s speed has suffered this year, which many believe to be a major factor in the chain’s traffic challenges.

At least part of the franchisee revolt that the company is experiencing appears to be rooted in a backlash against complexity and all-day breakfast. “Breakfast all day has done very little to help the overall business,” Blake Casper, a third generation Florida franchisee who led the effort to create the independent National Owners Association, said during the group’s initial meeting in October.

It’s not altogether clear whether all-day Egg McMuffins lessened demand for Egg McMuffins in the morning, or whether marketing changes at the chain this year were the bigger culprit. But it would seem doubtful that morning burgers would fix whatever ails McDonald’s in the morning. If all-day breakfast did hurt morning sales, it would seem likely that morning burgers would hurt lunch and dinner sales. 

But this odd demand for morning burgers also highlights McDonald’s biggest challenge. The Chicago-based giant is under constant pressure to be all things to all people, as the largest restaurant chain in the U.S.

Nobody, after all, is demanding that Burger King start selling Whoppers in the morning.

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