Photos by Arslane Merabet
On the outside, the McDonald’s in Laguna Niguel, California, looks like every other store in the chain. There’s sad white walls, three kids running in circles while their parents beg them to stuff more fries into their faces, and the prominent golden arches luring you inside to get your weekly grease injection. Upon further inspection, this McDonald's was like no McDonald's I had ever been to, because it’s the tester restaurant for their new build-your-own-burger gimmick.
My first thought was “damn, this place is clean.” It was clean, you guys. The counter was shiny, and the walls were painted with stripes to look futuristic and European. What shocked me the most, however, was the sheer friendliness of the employees. Three teenaged girls in white button-up shirts greeted me instantly with big smiles. “Welcome to McDonald's!” They were like the Stepford Wives, but a fast-food employee version.
This McDonald's is the McDonald's of the future. I'm not saying that just because it's really clean and people are happy. I'm saying that because this McDonald's has iPads! What do these iPads do? They are the tool with which you customize your burger order. With this magic iPad, you’re able to order such exotic menu items as an “artisan roll,” and “guacamole.” Yeah you heard me, a McDonald's that serves guacamole. Welcome to the 21st century, fuckers. Obviously, little things like “clean dining areas,” “friendly service,” and “freedom of choice” are not features that can be rolled out to every McDonald’s all at once. No, those things have to be “tested,” and Laguna Niguel is the only place where you can enjoy the aforementioned amenities.
As I alluded to earlier, we were instantly greeted by a happy McWorkerBot who was eager to show us their new iPads. She then handed me a tiny menu that said “Build Your Burger” on the front. I didn't want to read no dumb menu, so I headed straight to the iPad and started ordering. As I looked at the screen, the McWorkerBot stood directly behind me. She had her own little computer wrapped around her hips. Every time I marked something down, she would mark something down on her computer. I asked, “What are you doing?”
“I have to write down your order.”
“Isn't that what I'm doing with the iPad?”
“Yeah, but I have to mark it down here too so it can get to the kitchen.”
“OK... so what's the point of ordering off the iPad if you have to take down the order anyways?”
Well, I kept ordering. Sadly, the only option for a burger to be enjoyed any way you want it is if you only want a beef burger (no custom Fillet-o-Fish for me). You can add bacon, choose from two different buns, add any cheese (sharp white cheddar, pepper jack, or American), and choose as many toppings as you like. The last step is adding sauce. I ordered a beef burger on an artisan roll with no cheese. I topped it with guacamole, jalapenos, grilled mushrooms, pickles, and red onions. I chose ketchup and mustard as my sauces. The employee watching my every move then looked over my order once more, and sent it out to the kitchen. My friend then ordered and she did the same thing. I decided to observe him. You can tell a lot about a person over whether they want grilled onions over red onions, special sauce over ketchup, etc. I concluded that my friend and I can never be on a charades team together.
When we both finished, I was charged $15 for both burgers and the woman working with us gave me a small buzzer to put on our table. “When the order's ready this will buzz.” My first thought was, Whoa—excuse me—but is this a Cheesecake Factory or something?! As my friend and I were walking to find a table, a waitress came out with our food. We hadn't even found a table yet, and the food was ready. What is this a McDonald's or something?! Yes, it was.
The next twenty seconds were really awkward, as the waitress followed us to the booth we picked. That’s twenty seconds I could have been silently farting, but no, I had to have some stranger directly downwind. After we found our seats, she served us our burgers on metal bins. Shockingly, the burgers were open-faced. What is this, a TGI Fridays? The fries were served on a regular plastic tray. Nope, still McDonald's.
I have to admit, my burger looked pretty damn good. I smashed the two halves together and chomped away. Two bites in and I knew immediately, the artisan roll was the real winner here. It tasted oddly processed, but it was still good. Everything else was decent, even the guacamole, which you’d expect a fast food restaurant to screw up. As we were eating, a manager who funnily enough looked exactly like Colonel Sanders came up to us and asked how our meal was. What is this, the Olive Garden?! I was very close to asking if I could personally give my compliments to the chef. You know, like how they do in the movies. I refrained. Instead, I asked for his take on this whole build you own burger nonsense. He said that in two years or so, every McDonald's might have pointless iPads and decent guacamole. He also explained that the beef patties are charbroiled, which is not how they cook the Big Mac burgers. I was scared to ask how they cook the Big Mac burgers, and he walked away to greet another table.
As I ate, I observed two men in suits working on their laptops and sipping on coffee. What is this, Peets?! Then a teenaged boy walked in with a Pikachu backpack and I didn't know where I was. I finished the burger, and though I ostensibly enjoyed myself, I also remembered why I stopped eating at McDonald's in the first place. You see folks, no matter how fancy you dress up the McDonald's burger, no matter what hoity-toity bun you give it or various sauces you splash on it, at the end of the day it's still a McDonald's burger. Meaning, I instantly felt like crap. My stomach seemed ten pounds heavier, as if the burger reassembled inside my stomach and spawned tiny burger children that wanted nothing more but to just chill in my body to watch my arteries clog and my heart freak out.
My friend was in a much better mood. “That was really good,” he said. He then followed by saying something about the burger tasting like the type you eat at a backyard barbeque. So, maybe I'm just a weak burger snob who can't enjoy the mass-produced, corporate-created, simple things in life.
If the burger was cheaper, I’d say it was great. Was it worth a two-hour drive? Not really. However, if this does become a regular thing at McDonald's I will likely get it again. I'll even order off the iPad, regardless of the fact that this feature is completely pointless and time consuming. Ambiance is everything, and goddamn did this McDonald's have ambiance.
For more on fast food dining: