Customization is one of the big trends these days in fast food. Whether it’s McDonald’s promoting a “create your taste” option that lets you choose what kind of meat, bread, and toppings you want for your sandwich, or Taco Bell updating its website and mobile app to enable you to mix and match toppings on any menu item easily, customization is so ubiquitous that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was actually something new.
In reality, you’ve always been able to modify a McDonald’s burger. I’ve been getting my Big Macs with extra cheese and sauce since the mid-1990s!
Of course, with an emphasis on speed and uniformity, customizing an order back then wasn’t exactly encouraged. Burger King was the only fast food chain that used the slogan “Have It Your Way” to differentiate itself. Today, customization is much more prevalent, popularized by chains like Subway and Chipotle. Millennials, that golden target audience, are drawn to customization for several reasons. For one thing, it promotes freshness. Food quality is of utmost importance to most consumers, and customization means dishes are made to order. Having your food made right in front of you enables you to see exactly what’s being put in your meal and gives you direct interaction with the person making it. Whether a diner is focusing on being gluten-free, eating fewer carbs, cutting down on fat, or eating less dairy, that interaction provides you an opportunity to give specific instructions on how much salad dressing you want and what “easy on the cheese” really means to you.
And what do you have at the end of your customization experience? A meal that’s flavored exactly to your specifications.
Customization in fast food isn’t new. But it is being taken to a whole new level.
Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage analyst for Industry Intelligence, a Los Angeles-based market intelligence firm. It's the perfect job for him: He loves junk food, he often works besides a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper, and anytime one of the health nuts in his office gives him grief for eating a Big Mac, he gets to smile and say: "Hey, this is my job." Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.