McDonald’s first opened its doors in Hong Kong in 1975. Fast-forward 40 years and McDonald’s is pioneering a new dining concept it’s calling McDonald’s Next in the bustling city on the South China Sea.
Billed as a “food bar,” the open-concept eatery is located in the city’s Admiralty area, a major shopping hub (and hang-out for youths) near the main Central district on Hong Kong Island.
While a handful of McDonald’s in Hong Kong already offer Create Your Taste digital ordering, the McDonald’s Next location in Admiralty (taglines include: “What’s Next is Now” and “Your creation. Made by us. Worth the wait”) is offering a whole new level of personalization and customer experience for the brand.
In addition to being open until 1:00 a.m. and offering free mobile device charging and table service after 6:00 pm, what makes the Admiralty location unique is the personalization, interactive design and social nature of the dining experience.
Almost like a sushi bar in appearance, customers sidle up to the counter (which McDonald’s calls a theater kitchen) to design and order on touchscreens their customized salads and burgers from the DIY “Create Your Taste” menu that launched in Hong Kong in 2014.
As in other CYT locations, the food is served on a wooden plank with a toothpick flag impaling the burger bun and the fries in mesh wire baskets.
The integrated McCafe menu also includes gourmet coffee in smartly designed packaging, such as premium Ethiopian Sidamo coffee beans bagged in a style that would make third wave coffee snobs swoon.
Coffee beverages served with latte foam art depicting characters in a marketing tie-in with the new Peanuts movie and a gingerbread man design, part of the local “Hug the Moment” holiday campaign.
Last but not least, for dessert customers can indulge in mixed berry Belgian waffles. Throughout the experience, they are (naturally) encouraged to share photos of their creations on social media with the hashtag #createyourtastehk.
The “Create Your Taste” menu consist of 19 base ingredients including numerous salad options with cheese, sauces and ingredients like chopped boiled eggs, grilled chicken, couscous, quinoa, asparagus and even crayfish.
The packaging both rewards and reflects the handiwork of each customer’s creation, with taglines such as “Your creation — made by us, served to you.”
On the tables, customers will find various makes of charging cords for mobile devices to rejuice their ever-present smartphones.
In another inspired touch, limited edition Create Your Taste tote bags given away during the launch promotion reproduced each customer’s unique order as a graphic illustration, whether a hamburger or a salad.
To be sure, Create Your Taste is not unique to McDonald’s Hong Kong, and is now available in other markets including New Zealand, Australia, Canada and in select US cities including New York, where YouTube vlogger Casey Neistat reviewed the CYT “$12 burger” in September with a pal.
The Next concept also has hints of McDonald’s “Corner McCafe” concept concept in Sydney, Australia.
Beyond the customizable menu itself, the McDonald’s Next design is far from the counter interaction McDonald’s customers are use to. The open design of the bar encourages a more social space.
And forget the standard issue gold and red uniforms—McDonald’s Next employees wear a uniform that’s hipper and more appropriate for Hong Kong: black t-shirts. Even the balloons decorating the McDonald’s Next are chic, coming in black and silver.
And on the tables, customers will find various makes of charging cords for mobile devices to rejuice their ever-present smartphones.
— Benjamin Tsang (@stripeboy) December 8, 2015
— Benjamin Tsang (@stripeboy) December 10, 2015
— Benjamin Tsang (@stripeboy) December 9, 2015
It’s all designed, of course, to appeal to selfie-happy millennials and post-millennials (i.e. teens), key demographics for McDonald’s in the Chinese territory.
But the local media hasn’t been all raving about the cool new McDonald’s Next, even as the Create Your Taste concept gains traction worldwide.
For weeks now, Hong Kong’s newspapers have been reporting on how Western chains play into the mad economics of the city, even as BuzzFeed’s reviewers (for one) rave about McD’s only-in-Hong Kong local menu items such as flavored seasonings to shake onto your French fries.
Scores of former fast food workers recently turned up at Hong Kong’s human services office after spiraling rents resulted in the closure of five of the city’s seven Burger King locations.
And a homeless woman’s death in a McDonald’s booth—where she sat slumped over, unnoticed for some time—has shined a light on how the 24-hour McDonald’s locations have become de facto homeless shelters, with many of the destitute stretching out in booths overnight.
Meanwhile, a little north in mainland China in the city of Hangzhou, McDonald’s is weathering a different kind of PR storm. Criticism has met the company’s decision to convert a historic building on the city’s famous West Lake into a McDonald’s.
The building is the former home of Chiang Ching-kuo, son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, both of whom were Kuomintang leaders and later presidents of Taiwan—the longtime enemy and ongoing thorn-in-the-side of China’s ruling Communist party.
Beyond the burger giants, KFC is opening its first ever location on the roof of the world. The chain is not yet in the far west of Tibet but that will change early next year when a KFC will open in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa. It will also come as Yum! Brands spins off its China operations by the end of 2016.