McDonald's Tries to Improve on Perfection

A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 11 2013 7:36 AM

McDonald's Tries to Improve on Perfection

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McDonald's had a great run during the early recovery years as fast food served as an "affordable luxury" for cash-strapped families. In the most recent quarter, however, it reported anemic 0.2 percent same store sales growth. Now they're trying to shake things up with, among other things, a new set of steak-and-eggs breakfast options.

It's intriguing, but it seems misguided. The basic issue is that McDonald's existing breakfast items are so damn delicious. They're so great that every once in a while a fancy pants chef tries to create some kind of haute Egg McMuffin only to discover he's come up with something tasty but inferior to the original. Every sensible person realizes that the only way to improve on the Egg McMuffin is to switch it up and order the Sausage McMuffin With Egg. Is it conceivable that in some remote corner of the universe McDonald's is going to invent a better breakfast product? Yes, maybe. Or maybe not. Asking whether McDonald's can make a better breakfast sandwich than the Sausage McMuffin With Egg is a bit like asking whether God could make an object so massive that he couldn't move it.

But the real problem is that no matter how delicious this steak option may be, you need to think at the margin. On any given day what is it that's preventing millions of Americans from ordering breakfast at McDonald's? I can only think of four valid reasons:

  • You don't want to get fat and die.
  • You're a vegetarian.
  • You're trying to not waste money.
  • Your schedule doesn't work with McDonald's famously restrictive breakfast hours.

The idea that the existing offerings just aren't tasty enough isn't on the list. They're plenty tasty. So what problem does a new, hypothetically tastier steak and egg sandwich even solve? It's a mystery. If anything needs improving it's the non-breakfast menu options, or else tackling the long-fraught question of how to make all-day breakfast service feasible (logistically difficult because breakfast and non-breakfast require equipment at different temperatures).

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.