Not too long ago, the only hand customers had in creating their meal was deciding whether or not they “wanted fries with that”. But in a day and age when consumers are pickier than ever, restaurants have been forced to adapt their style of service to accommodate. This “have it your way” ideal has become ever more prominent, with Subway, Chipotle, and Pizza Studio all growing exponentially in the food industry.
We love the system: watching someone do all the work for us through a glass barrier while we call all the shots, “add lettuce, no tomato, can I get Dijon and spicy brown?” With no actual labor involved, we can still get exactly what we want. There’s some weird rush of power and control that comes from listing ingredients and watching a taste bud-tailored burrito being assembled perfectly right in front of your eyes.
This recent spike in popularity of chains like Chipotle and PizzaRev has given long established institutions a run for their money. In fact, McDonald’s has even announced a new customizable burger option coming soon to 2,000 locations. This “Create Your Taste” program is still in the very early testing stages, but the fact that a fast food superpower like Mickey D’s has to adapt to compete with these new and unstoppable forces says a lot about the changing market. Customers would be able to custom order everything from bun to protein to condiments, all on a tablet-style kiosk rather than at a crowded counter. However, McDonald’s reports that this new method has a significantly longer wait time than ordering traditionally- an average of seven minutes per burger, long enough to hustle a whole family through any respectable Subway line. Custom burgers also cost more, a whopping $8.29 per meal compared to the traditional $5 meal.
But up against the trendy new threats, McDonald’s has had to rethink their whole system. The franchise is trying to target the millennials, who are far less tolerant of questionable ingredients and will often pick an authentic salad or wrap over a greasy, processed burger. Chipotle and Subway have been riding this healthy choice wave into major profit, but McDonald’s is a little slow on the uptake. Subway surpassed McDonald’s as the world’s largest restaurant chain in 2011 and Chipotle has been steadily making their way to the top. On the other hand, McDonald’s has been rapidly losing money in the past few years with a formula that doesn’t quite work anymore.
Another lower profile threat to the fast food giants is the pizza industry. PizzaRev, Pizza Studio, Project Pizza, and Pieology- just to name a few- have popped up across the country, offering customizable pizzas. While the traditional franchises (Papa John’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut) are still thriving- in part because of the option to custom order online- the novelty of watching a pizza being put together and served fresh right there is making the newer franchises trendy new options.
Here in San Diego we have a large variety of options for constructing our own food. A PizzaRev took the place of the Blockbuster that went out of business in Scripps Ranch. There’s also a Pizza Studio in Poway, Kearny Mesa, and downtown. Chipotle is a popular MC hot spot, with locations in Carmel Mountain, Mira Mesa, and Poway, just to name a few. Subway and other custom sandwich shops are scattered all over. Basically, if you want something tailored to your specific taste, there’s no shortage of places to go. And who knows, maybe in a few years we will be putting together custom Big Macs and McRibs. The possibilities are endless.