Taste Test: Inside McDonald's 'Create Your Taste' Futuristic Restaurant

The McDonald's we've known for more than half a century is changing. Whether due to shifting market trends or a mid-life identity crisis, the Golden Arches has decided to completely reinvent itself as an upmarket restaurant chain. It's a bold new direction for the company with a focus on premium ingredients, dine-in perks and customer creation via "Build-A-Burger" touch screens. Yesterday, we tested the fancy new service at its maiden store in Castle Hill, NSW. The results exceeded our wildest expectations.

Study the above photo. It doesn't look like your typical Macca's fare, does it? Remove the tell-tale cup and it could almost be a burger from a glitzy steak house or high-end pub. What you're looking at is a bespoke burger packed with an Angus beef patty, lettuce, tomato, egg, smoked Applewood bacon, red onion rings, jalapenos, grilled mushrooms, chilli jam and no less than four types of cheeses. (Yep, I went all in and I don't regret a thing -- but more on that later.)

This is what McDonald's wants to become in Australia and it's pulling out all the stops to make it happen. While the service is currently only available in a single Castle Hill outlet, the company is embarking on a nation-wide roll out over the next two years. Consider it the final step in McDonald's hipster gentrification (hipsterfication?) -- a process that arguably started with the Angus and M Selection range.

So how does it work? If you just want to grab a quick 'n' dirty Big Mac, McDonald's will still cater to you via the usual ordering process. However, there's also a touch screen kiosk where customers can get a whole lot fancier. There are several ready-built deluxe burgers to choose from, although the emphasis is firmly on customer creation.

There are more than 30 ingredients to choose from, including two types of buns, four kinds of cheese, two types of bacon and a range of specialty toppings including grilled pineapple, guacamole, beetroot, grilled mushrooms and a range of gourmet sauces. Handily, the display automatically tallies the kilojoule count of your order after you've added all the toppings.

The touch screen interface has been built to impress: it's large, responsive and easy to navigate with visual representations of all the available ingredients. With the possible exception of geriatric Luddites, the UI shouldn't give customers any trouble. (Trained staff are hovering nearby just in case you have any questions.) You can also order standard menu items from the touch screen, which means you don't have to split from your lunch partner if they just want a Quarter Pounder.

Once you've made your selection you can pay for it instantly via an inbuilt credit card terminal. You're then presented with a receipt and invited to sit down as your meal is freshly prepared. It will then be served to you on a dinky wooden platter. (Plastic trays are for bogans, dontcha know.)

If you add a side of fries to your order, it comes in one of those miniature metal frying baskets favoured by swanky cafes. Unfortunately, soft drinks are still served in the usual paper cup which does spoil the aesthetic somewhat. Next time I'm bringing a Riedel Coke glass.

As you'd expect, the service commands a pretty hefty premium compared to McDonald's regular menu. Adding every single ingredient to your burger will set you back close to $30 and will probably kill you into the bargain. However, the average bespoke burger works out to a more reasonable $12 to $15.

Our own aforementioned creation came with fifteen ingredients and cost $12.49. Adding chips and a Coke brought the total to $15.90. This might seem pricey for a McDonald's meal, but this is around what you'd pay for a similar lunch down the pub.

The new menu doesn't look like fast food and it doesn't act like it either: waiting times are significantly longer than McDonald's customers are accustomed to. It took close to 15 minutes for my order to arrive by which point I was completely famished. Mind you, this is fairly typical for a non-fast-food burger so I won't begrudge them too much.

Just be aware that you might be in for an even lengthier wait during peak meal times. The manager I spoke to admitted that things can slow to a crawl when lots of bespoke orders come in at once. If your time is limited, our advice is to show up at least an hour before the lunch/dinner crowd.

When my burger finally arrived, I was immediately impressed with the size and construction. If the ready-made options are anything like this, we may have the first perfect Takeaway Truth score on our hands. But looks can be deceiving. For as long as anyone can remember, McDonald's has been synonymous with cheap, bland food. Would this be more of the same with a higher price tag?

The answer is an emphatic no. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the best McDonald's burger I've tasted by a significant margin. It may even be my favourite fast food burger, period. The combination of familiar Macca's meat and gourmet toppings went together wonderfully. My only reservation is that it was a bit hard to eat due to its massive size. Annoyingly, McDonald's doesn't include plastic cutlery with orders unless you ask.

Apart from that tiny caveat, I really don't have anything mean to say about this burger or the upscale service that spawned it. Would I pay $30 for a version with the lot? Of course not. But for $15 or so, this is a perfectly acceptable meal -- attractive, delicious and so very filling.

In conclusion, McDonald's has clearly realised it needs to adapt with the times and it is moving confidently in the right direction. Fast food just got a serious upgrade. Colour us excited.

Verdict: 9/10


Comments

    Certainly more appealing to the eye and surely more flavoursome than the regular Maccas fare(fair?) and considering if the average 'deluxe' meal would be around $15 or so, not that great of a price disparity either. Now, if they also introduced maybe a thickly cut beer-battered chip, the post-feed shame from a filthy Maccas feed will be lessened.

    On a side note, to the toads that love to ditch their Micky D's rubbish any-and-every-f*cking-where, PLEASE DESIST! Damn piggish cretins. Get your act together.

      Micky D's? It's bad enough we sometimes get yank articles but yank comments too?

        Sounds like you need a big nap there cranky panties

        Weirdly enough he said maccas twice before jumping to the Micky D.

    Give me the option to add a McRib patty and we'll talk about parting with my currency.

      Yes! McRib FTW!

    $5.50 from local takeaway shop for the LOT and 100 times more better than macca's shit. what a waste of time and money you just did.......

      $5.50 from local takeaway shop for the LOT
      I have to move to your locality, because I can't find a burger with the lot for that any price anywhere near me.

      100 times more better than macca's shit
      Kinda the point of the article, that "this is the best McDonald’s burger I’ve tasted by a significant margin" and "may even be my favourite fast food burger, period".

      You're welcome to be negative and all, but as someone who has been to McDonalds maybe 3 times in the past 10 years, I was interested to read this article.

      Last edited 09/10/14 1:33 pm

        I'll say! The takeaway shop I frequent has the cheapest burgers at $7.50, and that's plain!

        I, also, have only been to Macca's three times in the last decade. But that's because they use the cheapest and most tasteless ingredients possible and I can't stand eating there.

        For the author of the article to describe this burger as possibly the best fast-food burger they have ever had indicates that they have incredibly limited exposure to fast food. Macca's is cheap, nasty and cannot be considered good food unless you are drunk and/or starving. Most drunk people would even prefer a kebab over Mickey Ds (From memory Mickey Ds isn't a yank term, it's a homeboy term - Still American, but more palatable for me).

          To clarify, I was referring to "fast food" burgers from equivalent outlets like Hungry Jacks and local takeaway stores. Stuff like Grill'd isn't fast food.

            With a 15-minute wait, neither is this. It doesn't really seem reasonable to compare the taste to Hungry Jack's while excusing the wait and price because they're what you would expect at Grill'd. If I'm going to pay Grill'd prices and wait Grill'd waits, I want to know if I'm getting Grill'd quality.

      Can you tell us where your local takeaway shop is? Always interested to try something new :)

    The meat pattie does look different to the regular, was it different?

      The patties are definitely different. They are cooked for five minutes longer and use a higher grade of Angus beef (according to the McDonald's rep we spoke to.)

    The problem with this is you are eating your nice meal with the regular McDonald's people. If this is comparable to the pub or a nice burger place, why not go there? Much better atmosphere and you can get a nice drink too.

      If this is comparable to the pub, why not go there? Much better atmosphere and you can get a nice drink too.
      I'd rather eat in a Maccas than a pub (some pubs anyway). I don't feel that I am an outsider that wasn't invited at Maccas but do in some pubs.... I'm not much of a drinker either.

    Hmmm... if I can make some chillified monstrosity with extra chilli I may have break my eighteen year boycott of McDonalds and give this a whirl.

    AS LONG AS this doesn't negatively affect the regular McDonald's food and service times then I am all for it. I still haven't realy gotten over the change to 'Made for you'.

    I generally think that businesses that try to cater to all rather than nailing their niche are making a very large mistak but I'm pretty confident McDonald's has a chance to pull it off.

    It will be interesting to see what happens to total sales, and to proportion of sales of 'basic v deluxe' items in these restaurants.

      McDonald's has pushed up out of it's niche before with great success. McCafe was one of the big reasons Starbucks largely pulled out of the local market. It's the middle players that get squeezed from above by the hyper boutique options and below by the cheap and dirty that really need to specialise.

      I'd say McD's have their eye firmly on Grill'd and similar with this move.

        Good call. McCafe isn't my bag but it's definitely what I had in mind when I was thinking that Macca's can actually do this.

    You made good work of the London Royal Times there, not worth reading ?

      Oddly, that was the placemat. Not sure what it's supposed to symbolise.

    Hmmm.
    Interesting.
    But I think I would still prefer Grill'd. Gluten free bun options, great burgers and alcohol.
    Also generally nicer interiors.
    A taste test between the two could be good though.

    When Maccas can get me the right drink at least 3/4 of the time (I explicitly sat sprite, not sure why I keep getting coke and the odd fanta), I'll think about an expensive, fully custom burger.

    Until then, I'll make them at home, or hit up the local -- toonieburgers 5.50 for the lot is close to what I get, just have to pay 60c for the egg.

    Chur Burger - $10 and best damn burger you will ever eat. Plus you can have a beer with it.

    about the only thing i make an exception for at maccas is filet-o-fish, do they have the upscale fish burger option on the menu?

    Very promising... Melbourne ASAP please!

    This looks great!! This is proof that Maccas can make a good burger. But I've always thought so anyway. I'm a big maccas fan :)

    fish and chip shop burger > *
    $7 the lot with a potato cake

    Great idea, looks like they can pull it off too in terms of presentation & taste, however the price is still a bit too steep.

    Any vegetarian options other than the option to add veggie extras?

    I saw someone mention Grill'd burgers, as though they were 'good'
    They are very average burgers, quite boring, and quite expensive for what you get.
    Plus they like to arrogantly claim that their burgers are 'healthy', what a joke

    The kids working at maccas have trouble making simple orders correctly, now they are expected to use their brains and make complicated orders? Recipe for disaster.

      Hun, if your condescending ass is capable of producing an order every twenty-five seconds (yes, I know this is an absolute joke but this is the rate at which McDonald's back crew are expected to work and they incur the ire of the manager if they don't), managing inventory for thirty-odd types of meat and toppings, and never making a mistake for ten hours at a stretch for less than ten dollars an hour, go ahead.

        So McDonalds is exempt from minimum wage laws? I think you may have herped when you should have derped.

      This burger was presented as well stacked burger. Yet to find a Maccas or HJ's that can accomplish a stack! Usually half the fillings are falling out. If I am paying a min of twice as much for a burger, I want all the fillings to be actually in the bun!

    For the author of the article to describe this burger as possibly the best fast-food burger they have ever had indicates that they have incredibly limited exposure to fast food.

    But you haven't tried it, so how would you know how good it was? You seem to assume it would taste like any other McDonalds burger, which is obviously not the case here. So you're saying it's impossible for McDonalds to make a good burger even with the same ingredients as somewhere a bit more upmarket?

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