Here’s the story as the San Francisco Chronicle published it: “Something completely different at McDonald’s: Fresh beef. It’s a major change for McDonald’s, which has relied on frozen beef for more than 40 years.”

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

But as the late Paul Harvey loved to say, “And now … the rest of the story.”

The changeover isn’t as sweeping as Oak Brook executives might have wanted consumers (and investors) to assume. The fast-food chain is only swapping frozen patties for fresh ones in its Quarter Pounder sandwiches. And it’s only taking place at “most U.S. locations.” And it won’t launch until “sometime next year.”

According to Reuters’ reporting, “It was not immediately clear what impact the use of fresh beef would have on margins at McDonald’s USA, which does not disclose what percentage of sales come from the Quarter Pounder.”

No, but you can bet that they’re only a fraction of same-store sales. When you add up all the other menu items, the breakfast traffic, the coffee and beverage sales, the Happy Meals, the french fries and the dessert items, revenue from Quarter Pounder orders is miniscule.

But here’s a truly startling statistic, one which partly explains the move to fresh beef, but also puts into perspective how minimal the impact is likely to be.

As Reuters noted: “McDonald’s U.S. restaurants have suffered four straight years of traffic declines, resulting in 500 million lost transactions since 2012.”

If it’s accurate, that number is beyond belief. How in the world can that many potential store visits be recaptured just by switching out the beef patties in a single sandwich? Obviously, such a decline represents something more fundamentally flawed than just the substitution of fresh instead of frozen beef.

Unsolicited Advice — For Free
McDonald’s management has never asked me for my opinion, and if it ever was solicited I doubt anyone would pay attention.

Nevertheless, here’s my take on why those 500 million visits never happened:

·         Consistency over quality. That has been a corporate mantra for McDonald’s since the beginning. Unfortunately, the chain’s quality has been consistently inferior to virtually all of its competitors.

·         Speed as opposed to service. Look, very few fast-food restaurants excel at customer service, but when Andrew Puzder, the CEO of Hardee's and Carl's Jr., recently voiced his eagerness to replace human workers with robots, I’m not sure that wouldn’t be an improvement at many of the McDonald’s stores I’ve visited.

·         Economy rather than value. Too often, the goal of most McDonald’s franchisees seems to be shoving enough of something edible into the bag to make you feel like you scored a bargain, not a banquet.

Admittedly, the McDonald’s franchise has been incredibly successful — but with the emphasis on “has been.”

As noted in this space recently, the company’s muscular promotional campaign touting the new “Grand Mac” as a step up from the Big Mac lured me and my son into trying one. But when a hungry teenager tosses his half of a burger back into the bag, you know something’s amiss, and to be honest, it was truly one of the worst sandwiches I can remember (partially) eating in quite a while.

Apparently, McDonald’s is already testing the new fresh beef Quarter Pounder, because in its news release, McDonald’s USA President Chris Kempczinski eagerly noted that, “It’s a really hot, juicy burger.”

Um, shouldn’t a burger chain’s sandwiches already be served hot and juicy?

Here’s a suggestion for Ronald and friends: Switch to fresh beef patties across the entire menuboard, and do it sooner, rather than later.

And while you’re at it, how about upgrading the buns, the fries, the shakes and the McNuggets?

I guess you can leave the soft drinks alone.

I never buy those, anyway.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.