Winning over the hearts and stomachs of South Africans for over 20 years, McDonald’s South Africa, today, has over 250 restaurants in all nine provinces, serving over 8 million customers countrywide each month


Speaking to their own unique recipe for success, McDonald’s SA’s Executive team often joke that they have ketchup flowing through their veins. But, jokes aside, the company’s top leaders believe their success comes down to both their obsession with their customers and of course, burgers, as well as patience, persistence and an innovative spirit dedicated to serving up this global brand with a lot of local flavour.

“Finding the balance between patience and persistence when McDonald’s first entered the country has helped us to build a solid foundation. It took us 15 years to grow our first 100 restaurants and we took our time to get those first 100 restaurants because we wanted to make sure we had secured the right local talent and, of course, the right supply chain and today, we are very proud of the fact that 84% of supply chain is local,” says Greg Solomon, McDonald’s SA CEO.

“In all these years we’ve really listened to our customers and we’ve repositioned ourselves as a family business, paying attention to young adults from the ages of 16 up to 26, because that’s the fastest growing segment, and our new restaurants are extremely modern and contemporary. And while some companies grow by acquisition, we have grown by innovation. In 1996, we were the first to introduce the drive-thru concept to this country, and now it is a normal part of our everyday lives,” he says.

McDonald’s SA was also the first to introduce the 24/7 concept, as well as espresso-based coffees served at the best possible price. The fast-food favourite also introduced delivery 18 months ago, and while Solomon says they knew they weren’t the first, they’ve always strived to be the best.

“Another benefit for us, particularly as a global brand, is access to world-class systems, systems that have proven to be effective all over the world. In terms of product, we are also very proud of our efforts to localise our menu. One of our top performing products is the Spicy McFeast because it is a locally relevant product. Another proudly South African product is, of course, the Boerie and Egg McMuffin,” says Jo-Ann De Wet, McDonald’s SA Chief Operations and Supply Chain Officer.

“I would go as far as to say that we have been quite maverick in the way we have introduced some of our products. When we first introduced breakfast, we were aware that for South Africans, the traditional idea of breakfast is a fried egg and rashers of bacon (or macon) and toast, so when breakfast was first served in 2002, everything was hand-held, a concept that is now very popular. We take things we know people like and ‘Mcdonaldise’ it, and we’ve become very good at anticipating new trends before our consumers have the chance to develop the expectation,” she explains.

For the McDonald’s SA team, their passion for local communities extends well beyond merely providing tasty food at affordable prices. Education, skills development, transformation and job creation all form the heart of their business, proudly boasting over 11 000 employees, a number which will increase to 15 000 in the next three years.

Globally, McDonald’s employ what they call Chief People Officers, every country has one, and according to McDonald’s SA Chief People Officer, Brigitte da Gama, this title has been chosen very deliberately to show the company’s massive emphasis on people.

“My role allows me to have a direct impact on people and influence their lives. I have a huge passion for developing people and continuing to create jobs by opening new restaurants. Every year, we engage with all of our employees with a survey to determine their experience of the company, and we take that feedback very seriously,” explains da Gama.

“We are also very proud of the fact that even in a tough economy, we are still able to create jobs, from entry-level to those looking to step up in the job market. We put a lot of work into developing careers and developing skills in within the company,” she says.

McDonald’s SA also actively encourages the development of women in the company with a variety of programmes and bursaries for further education in order to enhance the careers of female employees.

“We also encourage women to join our franchises and become franchise owners, particularly young female entrepreneurs, where we help them with mastering our systems and so far, we have many very successful female McDonald’s franchise owners,” da Gama says.

Also changing the lives of many women and families is the Ronald McDonald House, a haven for parents with critically ill children. Developed through the Ronald McDonald House Charities, the house is located on the top floor of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital and boasts 27 fully furnished rooms made available for parents whose children have been admitted to the hospital.

“Many of these parents have come from distant towns or neighbouring provinces and they have no family or friends to stay with. The facilities have also been kitted out to allow for the ill child to spend time with their families in this safe and private space too, making sure that families are able to stay together.

“We may not be able to provide medical care but we do believe in love, there’s a strong bond between parents and their children, and so we do hope to provide some healing through love,” explains Daniel Padiachy, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for McDonald’s SA.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities has also provided a haven at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which includes lockers, a well-equipped kitchen and a comfortable lounge area where these moms can rest. They are able to receive a free meal each day but most importantly, they are able to pray together and comfort each other.

“Annually, there are about 20 000 babies born at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and of the babies that land in ICU, there was an 80% abandonment rate five years ago. This is primarily because the babies were premature, the moms are teenagers, or they’re moms who simply cannot afford the commute every single day, they can’t put food on the table, or they have no support system. Since we have opened this facility, the abandonment rate has dropped to zero and I for one, am very proud to work with an organisation that is making such a profound difference to people’s lives. Almost every decision I’m part of impacts lives, from opening a new restaurant to transforming suppliers and making an impact on the economy, and that really helps to keep my passion alive,” Padiachy says.

Looking to the future, McDonald’s SA is reinvesting capital into upgrading its image, including the actual restaurant buildings and their construction, the technology and cooking equipment used and more contemporary décor for the interior.

“We want our customers to experience a modern brand, and by upgrading our restaurants, we can give them that experience. Part of that involves looking at new menu boards, offering different counter set-ups and innovating new and different ways for the customer to experience our restaurants, all of which talks to making our brand more relevant to the customer of today,” says Zafar Mahomed, Chief Financial Officer.

“For us as a business, we also need to start looking at peri-urban and rural investments and in the near future, we will start opening new restaurants in remote areas like Kuruman in the Northern Cape, where we have just opened a new franchise.

“McDonald’s SA is not just an urban brand and soon we’ll see a lot of that come through in our investments,” he concludes.

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