Customer experience isn’t always about the “wow” factor but consistently meeting expectations. Giants like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s have demonstrated this principle in the fast-food battleground. McDonald’s streamlined its delivery and service speed, setting new industry standards. In response, Burger King’s “Reclaim the Flame” program invested heavily in improving delivery and production. Wendy’s, however, adopted a back-to-basics approach with their Global Next Gen concept, focusing on operational flow and speed without chasing constant innovations. These strategies, underpinned by physical and digital experiences (phygital), underscore the importance of efficiency, convenience, and setting the right customer expectations. Innovation isn’t always about being flashy; sometimes, it’s about mastering the basics.

Four years ago, long before the pandemic disrupted the marketplace, I penned an article that resonated with a unique yet straightforward insight. It dissected Customer Experience’s (CX) financial impact, but not in the glamorous way you might expect. Instead of wowing customers with glittering service or breathtaking products, it centered on a plain truth: setting the right expectations and consistently meeting them is the fundamental key to building loyalty.

The widespread belief that you must ‘wow’ your customers, leaving them speechless with extraordinary service or product features, is enticing. It paints a picture of dazzling clientele and winning their unwavering loyalty. However, the true essence of managing Customer Experience, especially in a world rife with shifting consumer behavior, isn’t necessarily about making customers’ jaws drop. Instead, it boils down to a simple yet profoundly impactful strategy: consistently setting and meeting the correct expectations.

You may now be wondering, “Isn’t this a bit underwhelming? Where’s the sparkle, the pizzazz, the Ferrari flair of customer delight?” Hold your horsepower! Before you rev up your business engine in pursuit of the extraordinary, let me share why this seemingly modest approach might be the road to sustainable success.

Setting the right expectations creates a roadmap for your business and customers. It’s the clear signage that guides them, ensuring that there’s no ambiguity or unexpected bumps along the way. When customers know what to expect, and those expectations are met, satisfaction follows. Believe it or not, satisfaction is a strong glue that holds loyalty together, often more so than occasional moments of astonishment.

I stumbled upon an intriguing article that corroborated this insight a few days ago. The stage was the fast-food industry, a battleground of fierce competition and rapidly changing consumer demands. The players? Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King employ their distinct approach to manage CX and respond to the industry’s challenges. (You can find the article here.)


Before and during the pandemic, McDonald’s took the reins and boldly reorganized how food was delivered to the customer, setting new expectations for the whole fast-food industry. Their focus shifted distinctly to two key factors: speed of service and delivery. They understood that these elements were not merely enhancements but necessities in the fast-paced world shaped by the pandemic.

McDonald’s fully embraced this mindset, adapting to and leading the change. They invested in their digital and delivery capacities, streamlined their menu, and made strategic decisions focusing more on production and service times than expanding their offerings. Despite its popularity, removing its “All-Day Breakfast” option wasn’t a loss but a strategic win. It was a testament to their commitment to improving operational efficiency, recognizing that consistency and meeting expectations were far more valuable than sporadic delights or clinging to previously successful ideas.

What McDonald’s has demonstrated is a masterclass in aligning a business to customer needs, setting the bar for the entire industry. They didn’t chase after the extraordinary but instead honed in on what customers genuinely desired in the evolving landscape: quick, reliable service and delivery that meets expectations every time. In this instance, the golden arches have become a beacon, illustrating that understanding and meeting customer expectations is a pathway to sustained success, even in the most challenging times.

Burger King’s answer

When McDonald’s set a new standard for speed of service and delivery, Burger King found itself at a crucial crossroads. Clients’ expectations had shifted, and there was a clear, immediate need to respond to those new demands. The industry was watching, and Burger King’s next move would define how they would compete in this rapidly evolving landscape.

Burger King answered the challenge with determination and strategic acumen, launching their “Reclaim the Flame” program. This was no hasty reaction but a calculated response, evidenced by a hefty investment of $250 million in their restaurants over two years. But what truly sets this movie apart is the focus of the investment.

Unlike some might expect, the investment isn’t aimed at creating flashy new products or chasing the latest culinary trend. Instead, it’s about fundamentally improving the delivery and production process, mirroring the strategic shift that McDonald’s had pioneered. Burger King recognized that the battle wasn’t to be won with novelty but with aligning their services to the changed client expectations.

Like McDonald’s, Burger King’s focus is now sharply on meeting customer demands for quick service and reliable delivery. In a world where these factors have become paramount, their “Reclaim the Flame” initiative marks a significant step in the right direction, an action taken with purpose, clarity, and a vision aligned with the new reality of the fast-food industry.

Burger King has been spurred into action with their “Reclaim the Flame” program, investing a hefty $250 million in their restaurants over two years. The investment isn’t aimed at creating flashy new products but at fundamentally improving the delivery and production process.

Wendy’s back-to-basic

Wendy’s made a decisive and intriguing move that captured my attention, signaling a departure from the path some might have expected. While McDonald’s reorganized delivery and Burger King invested heavily to meet new client expectations, Wendy’s took a unique direction that speaks volumes about their understanding of the market dynamics.

Instead of attempting to dazzle customers with constant innovation or mimicking the strategies of its competitors, Wendy’s embraced a back-to-basics approach. They recognized that the heart of customer satisfaction in the fast-food industry was not necessarily in the fireworks of new products but in the consistent delivery of quality and convenience.

With their Global Next Gen restaurant concept, Wendy’s isn’t just answering a challenge; they’re defining their brand of success. Their focus is to increase kitchen output and enhance overall operational flow, aligning perfectly with the industry’s shifted expectations but doing so uniquely. They directly address customers’ needs by reducing waiting times and improving service speed.

What makes Wendy’s approach particularly thoughtful is their attention to detail. They’ve considered the entire customer journey, from when an order is placed to its delivery. Incorporating self-order kiosks, delivery optimizations, and next-generation technology is not just a technological upgrade but a comprehensive strategy to fulfill the straightforward expectations of efficiency and convenience.

Wendy’s strategy might appear simple on the surface, but it’s a calculated move that shows a profound understanding of the fast-food landscape and its evolution. It is a testament that success sometimes comes from outshining competitors with flash and spectacle but from knowing your customers and delivering exactly what they need.

In a time when McDonald’s and Burger King are redefining themselves, Wendy’s is doing the same, yet differently. They’re holding to a principle that resonates well beyond the fast-food industry: Success comes not from chasing the extraordinary but from excelling in the ordinary, turning the everyday experience into something consistently satisfying.

In each of these giants’ strategies, we see a reaffirmation of a truth I discussed four years ago: Customer loyalty only sometimes stems from constant surprises or over-delivering. It comes from setting the right expectations and doing what it takes to meet them repeatedly. This steadfast approach offers a stable path toward continued success in a world where consumer demands are ever-shifting.

Interestingly, the themes and strategies explored by Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King resonate with some of the insights and findings my colleague Gian Paolo Franzoni and I uncovered in our research years ago. Our paper, focusing on the customer journey and the integration of physical and digital experiences (phygital), delved into the principles that these industry giants are now applying in their unique ways. The balance between innovation and meeting straightforward expectations, emphasizing efficiency and convenience, and aligning brand strategies with customer needs reflect our identified broader shifts. Our paper is available here for those interested in a more in-depth exploration of these concepts.


In a rapidly changing fast-food landscape, the strategic moves of Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King reveal a shared understanding that success lies in meticulously meeting customer needs. These industry giants have recognized that setting customer expectations is paramount, crafting their operations to fulfill, rather than exceed, these expectations. The evolution of their strategies into engineering the phygital journey—where the physical and digital aspects intertwine seamlessly—shows an advanced level of responsiveness to market demands. The investments in speeding up services and delivery are not mere tactical changes but a strategic alignment with what modern customers value most: efficiency and convenience. In their distinct ways, all three brands have shown that innovation doesn’t necessarily mean invention; sometimes, it’s about perfecting the fundamentals and transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. It’s a lesson that transcends the fast-food industry and offers a blueprint for businesses seeking to thrive in an ever-connected, fast-paced world.

Why Be Gourmet When Fast Food Gets the Job Done?
Federico Cesconi

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