If someone walks into McDonald’s and asks for a curry, chances are McDonald’s will not make them curry. I’m not talking about adding curry spices to a burger, I’m talking about a full blown Vindaloo. My bet is even if you paid them and brought the ingredients yourself, the store manager is going to say, “Sorry, we can’t accept your money because we just don’t make curry“.

Why is that? McDonald’s probably could make the curry. They have all the cooking implements to do so. Let’s say you brought the ingredients yourself, is there a reason why they couldn’t make the curry? Maybe, maybe not. However, I believe there are several reasons why they won’t do it. This article discusses a few of them, in particular the importance for a business to stay focused on their objectives and send a consistent message to consumers about who they are and what they do.

Being focused

Recently, I wrote about the Top 14 stumbling blocks for new businesses. In that list, one of the things small businesses have to be mindful of is not chasing any and every sale. Why not? When you’re starting out or simply operating in the small business space, in the most likely scenario your resources are already stretched. If you diversify your energies and focus on too many initiatives, projects and clients at the same time, chances are you won’t be able to give any the attention it rightfully deserves.

Instead of doing a single job well, what you end up with is a number of mildly satisfied clients and a mediocre track record. For small businesses, especially those that operate on word of mouth advertising and testimonials, doing things in a mediocre fashion can be poisonous to their ongoing survival. Maybe this is a little extreme, but in many cases, the reality is one might as well not bother being in business at all.

Sending out a consistent message

One of the things that make McDonald’s successful is their branding. I’m not sure about you, but of all the burger joints out there, I would hardly classify McDonald’s as the best in terms of taste and overall quality. However, that doesn’t stop me from dropping in every now and then when I’m famished or after a boozy night out with some friends.

Now ask yourself, why is that? Given that McDonald’s isn’t the best tasting burger joint and certainly not the best thing for you healthwise, why do so many people all over the world flock to the Golden arches? I believe it has a lot to do with their branding, messaging and customer expectations. People go to McDonald’s because when they think of having satisfying fast food, they think of McDonald’s. They go there expecting a certain thing and they always get it.

How would all that change if McDonald’s started serving you, alongside their traditional Big Macs and Coke, a gourmet inspired Indian curry? The message just doesn’t gel, does it? It doesn’t matter how cheaply they can do it or how nice the curry would taste. The bottom line is, companies need to spread a consistent message about who they are, what they do and what customers can expect to get when they hand over their money.

Concentrate on the core business

So far I’ve used McDonald’s and curry in a useful metaphorical sense. From a literal sense, what if you did go up to the counter and offer $500 for a curry. Should McDonald’s take you up on that offer and make the curry for you just this once?

For McDonald’s, I think the answer is no. For small businesses, I think the answer is it depends. McDonald’s shouldn’t do it even though it’s tempting because they need to stick to their strategy. Making curry just once, earns them some money and kudos now but does nothing for the company in the long run. That move is not consistent with their overall strategy. It sends mix signals to the market place and within their own team. Doing adhoc requests just once, sets a precedence for more. What happens when someone else comes along and ask for curry? Or Mexican food? At what point do you say no, and how would you select who you say yes and no to?

I think many small businesses often face a similar problem. It’s often tempting to accept a piece of work even though it is not that company’s core business. If a piece of work gives your company another 6 months of income, then it’s worth considering. After all, that could mean you stay operating for another half year vs closing down for good. For smaller jobs, I think it is a definite no. The strain on the resources for the company would mean less time, money and brain cycles on the things that matter. In a competitive environment, taking your eye off the ball just for a split second could spell death for your fledgling business.

From a branding perspective, I think doing things that are not core to your business can take away the thing that make you special in the market place. In order to be special, small businesses have to focus on doing one or two things really well, instead of bits of lots of things. What you want to be known for is being special at one or two of those things.

Specialisation and streamlined processes

Being focused isn’t just important for small businesses. For big businesses, like McDonald’s, being focused allow them to specialise, refine what they do and how they do it. Instead of hiring 10 people and training half of them to be good at flipping burgers and the other half to be good at making curries, McDonald’s consolidate all its resources and create a single unified workforce, aligned to a common goal.

It’s been widely written that specialisation leads to a more effective workforce – employees only need to concentrate on doing one thing and do it well. In McDonald’s case, anyone can come off the streets and become an employee. If one person leaves, another can easily replace them. The point here is the effectiveness of a McDonald’s store isn’t tied to any single person. In every aspect, McDonald’s operations are turn key – that means what they do is repeatable and consistent, irrespective of the people involved in doing the actual work. As a result, you can be fairly certain a McDonald’s store in one neighbourhood produces burgers that taste the same and the overall quality is consistent with another store.

In that sense, if you walked up to the counter and asked for curry, chances are they won’t be able to do it. Their equipment and staff are trained to be efficient burger producers and only that.

Spreading overheads and economies of scale

Overheads are things that exist in a business which must be present in order for the business to operate. Different businesses have different overheads. For McDonald’s their overheads are things like electricity, real estate, fixtures and fittings, cash registers, cooking equipment and burger grills. Without any of these, a McDonald’s store cannot possibly continue producing.

However, McDonald’s also utilise specialised equipment to ensure overall quality and consistency. These equipment are essential ingredients in the burger production process. It allows McDonald’s to do what they do cheaply and efficiently.

Let’s imagine, McDonald’s started making curries for the curry lovers out there. What’s going to happen? In order for them to be able to make curries as cheaply and efficiently as they can make burgers, McDonald’s is going to have to invest in and then utilise specialised curry making equipment. In order to be commercially successful on a global scale at both, they’re going to need two sets of specialised equipments at every store. It doesn’t take much to see that this is going to cause all sorts of logistical problems including shop layout, equipment maintenance, staff training etc.

What does this mean to small business owners?

Why would you not be able to get curry at McDonald’s? You won’t because even though you pay them, it is not in their best interest to make and sell you curry. As metaphor, it is useful for remembering the importance of being focused on doing a few things right, sending consistent messages to the market place and employees as well as the efficiencies that you can get by concentrating on doing a few things effectively.

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19 Responses to “Why McDonald’s Won’t Sell You Curry”

  1. mike vidal says:

    McDonalds has curry dishes, in India.
    Search for the Mc Curry on this page.
    http://www.mcdonaldsindia.com/mencard_delhi.htm

  2. Ryan Fox says:

    I remember several years ago, McDonalds started making pizzas. I can’t really comment on the quality or taste because I was rather young, but I do remember that it came very quickly for pizza, and it was extremely hot when you got it. I don’t go to McDonalds often, so I didn’t notice when they stopped making pizzas. I guess they fell into the trap of a fad, but it didn’t seem to hurt them much. I just get weird looks now when I try to order pizza…

    On a somewhat more relevant note, what’s up with Microsoft? They started off with a focussed brand, but they keep branching off in different directions. Now they’re into search engines and web dev. When is it no longer sufficient to have only one monopoly? With the company split into three, I can only see it getting worse.

  3. Dave Cheong says:

    Several people have sent me pictures of McCurry which is a vegetarian curry dish served on top of a rectangular spiced bread. While, on the surface, it may seem I’m wrong about McDonald’s serving you curry, I think in many ways it highlights what I’m trying to say in the article.

    This curry dish is specific to India to cater for the local tastes. It is not a globally commercialised product, because it’s just odd for McDonald’s to be serving curry anywhere else.

    Also curry is used as a useful metaphor. You can substitute it with any thing else. eg Chinese stir fry.

    A link to the McCurry “burger”

    http://www.mcdonaldsindia.com/ourfood/veg/veg_mccurrypan.html

  4. Dave Cheong says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for your comment. I guess companies like McDonalds and Microsoft have to experiment with new markets to see if there are any untapped opportunities.

    Microsoft in particular had missed the Internet boat previously with Bill Gates famously dismissing it. But having learnt this hard lesson, I think they more vigilant in having their finger in every pie just so it doesn’t happen again.

    In many ways, Google’s is the same. They’re still known primarily as a Search Engine, but you only need to go to Google Labs or read any online news site to see them launching service after service.

    Thanks for dropping by.

    dave

  5. my_sn says:

    i suppose it is the 80/20 rule in play eg you focus on the 20% of your product or clientele if it produces 80% of your profits etc.

  6. smart arsery :: one lost boy says:

    [...] After reading the article, I scrolled down to the comments, and found several people stating that McDonald’s does, in fact, sell curry. In India. Dave handles these replies better than I would. [...]

  7. Robert Payne says:

    Hi David –

    Great post. I struggle with this issue on a regular basis. My company offers several different products and services, which are difficult to convey. The reason is because we strive to provide integrated solutions for our customers; but so often public perceptions focus on just one i.e email marketing, mobile marketing, web design, data integration, company blogs, podcasting creation and syndication, etc.

    We get branded as just one thing and then word-of-mouth takes over. When it comes to allocating marketing dollars towards getting the message across, it is hard not to go out with the shotgun approach to try and change public perceptions.

    I could go with the 80/20 rule but many times customers come in for one thing and then the upsell leads to something far more profitable.

  8. Dave Cheong says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your comment. You actually touch on an excellent point. Marketing is about telling your consumers who you are and what you offer. Not all things appeal to everyone. Also, in many cases, consumers don’t actually know what they want. They latch on to the one or two things they can identify with and from that as the people offering the product/service, it is our job to educate them on how we can best help them.

    Great comment. Looking forward to more from you.

    thanks,

    dave

  9. Maus says:

    If I had read this before.
    This month has been really hard (business-talking). I started making 2 web pages, and then an oportunity came: making a national campaign for the UN. That was something I couldn’t say no. So I got stuck doing my every day job as a RRHH , doing 2 web pages and a National campaign. Obviously, I saw myself going to bed at 4.30, and waiking at 8 to go to work.
    I had to talk to my web-page-client and tell him it would take me more time. He understood. Finally today I was able to make my grocery shopping after eating in a Mc Donalds everyday, and seems I’m going back to basis.
    The problem is that my body now demands REST and leisure and not work. So I took one weekend off and now I’m kindda retaking my life and the webpage. Obviously now is hell: from ironing to working double hours to finish the webpages…
    Still don’t know if I did good. But is a national campaign!
    I’ll tell you what happens…

  10. Eric says:

    McDonalds does make different products depending on what part of the world you live in. They also do have a Pizza restaurant. The chain in America is called Donatos. McD’s is a global chain with regional focus based on local tastes.

    Eric

  11. K. Cook says:

    McDonald’s also sells curry in London.

  12. Mike C says:

    Another regional taste is a lobster roll here in Maine, USA…I don’t know why, because if you grew up in a fishing community (as I did), you knew you could get a better lobster roll by buying fresh lobster on the docks from your fishermen friends, and it would be cheaper than McD’s can make it (per roll, with the exception that McD’s is doing the work, and you just have to go in and pay for it). Still, not sure why you would want to sell a lobster roll in a place where lobster is easy to obtain. Would seem to be a better market in the midwest or west coast. Seems a lot of tourists come to Maine to get a real Maine lobster roll.

  13. SapGuru says:

    Atleast McDonald’s should make Veggie Burgers. More n more resturants and chains are making veggie burgers, so why not MacD’s. They can attract a lot of customers from India who in 90% are vegeterian. Lot of Americans and others are turning veggies.. So MacD can make huge profit out of it!

  14. suchitt dave, advocate, supreme court, india says:

    Dave, I don’t care if Mcdonald sells curry in India or elsewhere, but I can agree to your message that business must stay focussed, if they want to grow. First of all you have to have a reputation of being great in what you do. Diversification is a second step. You can diversify after you have mastered the existing business. You can’t be a jack of all and master of none. Top business houses, and many people like Warren Buffet have simply made successful investments and built great business models across range of business. However, they did so after they were fairly successful in what they did on hand. Secondly, they have a good team which stays focussed on a segment of business they have been allocated. Ultimately focus in a work-area is the key factor that governs success.

    This way, I think what you are trying to drive is completely correct. You have to prove your ability in one field before venturing to another.

    - Suchitt Dave, Advocate, Supreme Court, India.

  15. Blithe says:

    Yes, I agree on what you are saying and to those who are interested in the curry, we’ve got packets of curry sauces for Mc Nuggets in Singapore.

  16. Mayank Dhingra says:

    Hi Dave,

    Stumbled upon your post via a Google search for McDonald’s and bookmarked it for a later read.

    The point in questions is very valid especially from branding perspective. Brand associations take a lot of time and effort to come and diversification too early can prove detrimental.

    I am also reminded of this discuss here ( http://www.kwippy.com/mayank/kwips/2008/sep/17/071421/) over the fact the Google now doesn’t want people to use its name as a verb.

    Thanks !!

  17. Alvin Lim says:

    Focusing on the core business is very important for a business because that’s what people know you for. It’s good to be creative once in a while by introducing new things like the “curry” or “pizzas” that some people have mentioned here. But at the end of the day, it is the core business which matters since it carries your brand.

    Need to buy something my business doesn’t offer? I can guide you to the nearest location which sells that, but no, I can’t give you that here.

    Coz it’ll just cost too much for me.

  18. Pressing Forward | writings from a runner racing to get closer to Jesus says:

    [...] I must admit that I stole the title of this post from Dave Cheong. You can find his post here, and its a valuable read. [...]

  19. Sara says:

    The article is a fairly good read…
    but at the end of it, the message one is forced in the face is the ‘Curry and McD’and not enough of ‘Software Development Strategy’ …hence the ensuing discussion about McD more than software business!!

    If the author had focussed more on the Software equivalent of the McD and Curry aspects and delved more into the strategy building of software companies, it would have made it more informative and interesting to me personally. The article ends up being shallow as a result and just mediocre with a simple thread of an idea.

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