McDonald's Big Mac-Over

Carmona overseeing fast feeder's updated, "lifestyle"-zone look

Published in CSP Daily News

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- Max Carmona is McDonald's senior director for U.S. restaurant design, the overseer of the chain's updated look. Carmona, a University of Illinois-trained architect who started at the chain 22 years ago as an intern, manages a team "reimaging" 400 to 500 restaurants this year. Out will go the iconic red mansard roof and cafeteria-style lighting, and in will come a stone or brick exterior and more modern furniture.

Carmona, 45, spoke with The Chicago Tribune about what customers can expect.

Tribune: What are the first things customers [image-nocss] will notice when they walk into a reimaged restaurant?

Carmona: Hopefully, you're noticing that is does feel modern and contemporary and very forward-looking.... For me, it's the colors, the comfortable furniture, the modern furniture, and some more-dining-conducive lighting.

Tribune: Is the goal to have a coffee shop feel?

Carmona: No.... We have zone-seating areas, so the customer has the opportunity to use the restaurant in the manner that fits their lifestyle best. So if a customer is coming in by themselves, who wants to flip open a laptop and have a cup of coffee, great. If it's a quick lunch with a couple of friends, and they have to get back to work in an hour, we have an area more conducive to getting in and out quick.

Tribune: Is every restaurant going to look the same?

Carmona: On interiors, we have a portfolio of designs. We have flexibility to tweak them a bit to localize them. On the outside, we've got a branded look.... The flexibility we have is really to adapt locally to municipal requirements and regional materials. Stone works better in some parts of the country and may be more cost-effective. They'll be brick on some. They'll be stucco on others.

Tribune: Are you doing away with Playlands?

Carmona: We're working with our franchisees to assess if they still need to be there. Markets change, and where it makes sense to have play places, we'll have play places.

Tribune: About half of McDonald's 14,000 U.S. restaurants have had some sort of reimaging. How is this year's effort different?

Carmona: From 2003 to 2006, we only did the interiors and we did very little on the exterior. We might have painted some buildings, new lighting, but no true reimaging. From 2006 to 2010, the current building design, which we probably have about 1,200 throughout the U.S. at this point, was mainly executed on new restaurants. (That figure includes relocations and rebuilds.) Now, here's the opportunity to reimage existing locations.

Tribune: What's in store for 2011?

Carmona: We're focused on getting the 400 to 500 done, and to a large extent that will dictate what we do following 2010. (Franchisees have signed letters committing to the reimaging of these restaurants, which cost between $400,000 and $700,000 per remodel, Carmona said. Media outlets have reported the price ceiling at $1 million.).... How we do things, what we do, do we change some parts of what we're doing nowthat's all to be determined through the year.