What you see above is the new “Cheeseburger” offering at McDonald’s in China.
Or at least at this specific location in Shanghai.
The reason I’m posting this should be obvious: the “cheese” in this cheeseburger is half the normal slice I recall McDonald’s cheeseburgers historically using.
What the hell is this?
McDonald’s menu in China has undergone some notable changes in the past couple of months:
First, they increased prices across the board, with their “value meals” generally increasing about 2-3 RMB each. At the same time, they launched a special deal where you can get a Double Cheeseburger, Double McChicken, or a Double McFish with a Medium Drink (no fries) for 15 RMB. Given the timing, I saw this as their effort to soften the blow of (or distract from) the price hike.
Second, they changed the format of the menu, and this must’ve happened very recently (within this month). Now, instead of a price for a combo (ex. 23 RMB for a medium-sized Big Mac value meal), you are presented with the “main dish” (burger, sandwich, etc.) and its a la carte price, and then given four different options to make it a “combo meal”:
- +7 RMB for Medium Fries and Medium Drink;
- +9 RMB for 5pc McNuggets and Medium Drink;
- +10 RMB for Chicken Pieces and Medium Drink;
- +7 RMB Cup of Corn and Medium Drink.
My Cheeseburger was 8 RMB, so by making it a combo with fries and a drink, my total bill was 15 RMB. A Double Cheeseburger is 14 RMB, so with fries and a drink, it would come out to 21 RMB, the same as it was before. Likewise, a Big Mac a la carte is 16 RMB, so adding fries and a drink would make it 23 RMB, again equaling the value meal price McDonald’s previosuly promoted on their overhead display menus.
It’s easy to speculate that this allows McDonald’s to display “lower” prices to their customers, or partially mask the recent price increase.
This format change follows in Burger King’s footsteps (at least in China). The “Home of the Whopper” switched to this format quite awhile ago but has less emphasis on “side dish” options (Fries or Onion Rings) on their in-store display menus. I remember being confused by Burger King’s switch to this format, because the a la carte prices for their burgers and sandwiches looked like their old combo meal prices except now they wanted something like an extra 14 RMB (I forgot) for fries and a drink. If I didn’t remember their old prices incorrectly, this seemed like a huge price increase to me. Even now, the a la carte prices at Burger King are in the same range as full value meal prices at McDonald’s, and some of their burgers are easily pricier by themselves than even McDonald’s most expensive value meals.
I’m not terribly sold on “flame-broiled” commanding such a premium.
Prices at McDonald’s have increased over the years in China as well, which is an unsurprising consquence of general inflation. What’s interesting is how McDonald’s has changed and experimented with its pricing strategies. For some time, it tried offering a cheaper price for its value meals for a few hours around lunch (later expanded to a few hours also around dinner) that was offset by significantly higher prices at all other times. Eventually, they abandoned this strategy and went back to a single price at all hours. The above limited-time 15 RMB fries-less specials and this new “pick your burger and then your side” menu format are likewise interesting as a reflection of how McDonald’s has introduced price increases and how it manages price-consciousness of their customers (again, at least in China).
All this interest in fast food business strategies and practices aside, I’m just wondering if the slices of cheese in McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger have been halved as well, because that would really piss me off. If they haven’t and they remain two full quare slices as they’ve been in the past (I haven’t had a Double Cheeseburger since this menu format change that I only discovered today), then either the Cheese Burger needs to be renamed to the Half Cheeseburger or the Double Cheeseburger needs to be renamed to the Quadruple Cheeseburger for naming accuracy (presuming the “double” refers to slices of cheese and not just beef patties).
To be fair, this is my first time ordering a plain Cheeseburger at a McDonald’s in China. For all I know, their Cheeseburgers here have always only had a half slice of cheese, further distancing themselves from the images they use in their marketing. To be extra fair, maybe they normally use a full slice of cheese but whoever made my Cheeseburger today just happened to give me a stunted slice and I’m just unlucky.
I suppose I’ll have to dine at McDonald’s again (see update below), to confirm that Cheeseburgers only come with half a slice of cheese and determine if the Double Cheeseburgers still comes with two full slices.
Hey, this stuff is important.
UPDATE: (January 21)
I’ve updated the above post with more detailed current pricing information, and I may owe McDonald’s an apology. I ordered another Cheeseburger today and it came with a full slice of cheese. Granted, it was at another McDonald’s location, but I’m now inclined to think my first experience described above was just a fluke. Thank god.
UPDATE: (February 28)
It appears the new mix-and-match menu format has been reverted back to the old value meal format, so you can no longer opt to have pair your “main” with a choice of “sides” (fries, nuggets, wings, or cup of corn) at slightly different prices. McDonald’s China’s online ordering website still seems to allow users to choose between medium fries, large fries, small cup of corn, or large cup of corn with each value meal.
However, McDonald’s delivery service is substantially more expensive than dining in or ordering to-go. Not only is there a flat 8 RMB (currently) delivery fee on all orders, I believe every menu item is priced higher than in-store. For example, a Double-Cheeseburger value meal (with Medium Fries and Drink) is 30 RMB + 8 RMB delivery fee, for a 15 RMB (or ~65%) premium over its in-store menu price.