McDonald's Hong Kong: Serving up a new experience

Innovation is not the only key to success. McDonald’s Hong Kong takes things a step further by curating tailor-made food and drinks to wow Hongkongers. CEO Randy Lai believes glocalisation is the future for McDonald’s Hong Kong.

In 2015, McDonald’s Hong Kong launched the first concept restaurant in the city, offering exclusive food and drinks in the restaurant. The entire restaurant was also renovated to give customers a futuristic touch. In the party room of that store, Randy Lai, CEO of McDonald’s Hong Kong, opens up about how the city’s fast-food market has changed during her stint at McDonald’s Hong Kong.

“I don’t think the fast-food industry is saturated. Currently, we are running about 240 stores across Hong Kong, serving more than one million customers a day,” she says.

“We created the first McCafé in 1999 to get into the specialty coffee market, along with the dessert kiosk to cater for another sector of customers. We also offer premium burgers through customisation. The sky’s the limit is the best sentence to describe Hong Kong’s fast-food industry.”

Established in January 1975, McDonald’s Hong Kong opened the first branch on Paterson Street, Causeway Bay. The brand has been operating for more than 43 years and is still going strong. Lai says “innovate for growth” is the key strategy.

The Big Mac and Chicken McNuggets are typical of its food. However, McDonald’s Hong Kong was the first to provide local flavour food items such as Twisty Pasta and Local Milk Tea, according to Lai.

In October 2018, McDonald’s Hong Kong collaborated with local singer and entrepreneur Nicholas Tse to introduce the “McDonald’s X Chef Nic” The Signature Collection with food and beverages curated by Tse in a Hong Kong-style.

“We kicked off our collaboration in May and invited him to our kitchen studio to refine the products. We’ve sold more than 1.5 million of the Chef Nic Bolognese & Fried Egg Angus Burger and Crispy Pork Cutlet Burger with Onions in just five weeks after the launch. It’s a great honour to work with him,” Lai says.

Other than diversifying its portfolio of food and beverages, McDonald’s Hong Kong has been keeping up with the times by offering self-ordering kiosks where customers are able to enjoy a smooth purchasing experience and customise their orders.

In April, the McDonald’s App was launched with features that include mobile order, My Rewards, McDelivery and nutrition information. Since its launch, McDonald’s App had recorded more than 1.3 million downloads by early-December.

From regular food and beverages to the McCafé offerings, McDonald’s Hong Kong has been providing more affordable alternatives to customers from all walks of life.

Speaking of this approach, Lai explains the history of Western food in the city and what McDonald’s Hong Kong has achieved.

“We have democratised the premium experience,” she says. “Decades ago Western food was expensive, but it has been getting much more affordable now. At McDonald’s Hong Kong we inherited this idea to offer Angus burgers and the D24 Durian McFlurry.”

However, according to Lai, offering alternatives is not equivalent to launching a price war. Aiming to provide food and drinks which are value for money, she prefers experience to price – exploring new opportunities and excitement comes first rather than compromising quality for lower costs.

Branding and marketing are crucial to brands today. In 2018, McDonald’s Hong Kong launched numerous campaigns to refresh its brand image and promote new products, including the McDonald’s App, the Dip & Shake ad series performed by artists Joey Yung and Hins Cheung, and the “McDonald’s X Chef Nic” The Signature Collection, to name a few.

From September 2018 onwards, McDonald’s ceased to offer plastic straws on every Monday in response to the rising demand for environmental protection from the public.

Lai agrees McDonald’s Hong Kong, as one of the big companies in the city, has to take the lead to support this initiative. The restaurant launched a three-month transition period to test customers’ reactions. This also served as a buffer zone for the front line staff to educate customers that McDonald’s Hong Kong was undergoing a transition.

McDonald’s worldwide has been using its “Scale for Good” approach to achieve sustainability. Lai says all restaurants in Hong Kong adopted a “made-for-you” system in their kitchens in 2009 and since then have minimised their food waste. Three years later in 2012, the branches started replacing old light bulbs with LED lighting. One of the latest moves in 2018 was that McDonald’s Hong Kong stopped offering foam packaging.

Lai said McDonald’s had influenced her a lot during her childhood, making her want to contribute to society. McDonald’s Hong Kong has also been collaborating with artist Karena Lam to produce children books for Happy Meals. “McDonald’s is not just a restaurant. We hope our customers can treasure their family time here so we take this opportunity to help the parents instil values. We aim to create a restaurant suitable for both children and adults,” Lai says.

In the digital era, social media has become a hot topic among marketers. They have been exploring ways to engage with customers.

Nowadays, some angry customers simply go to a brand’s social media accounts and leave comments to complain about the services and products.

“But I appreciate their feedback,” she says. “If they don’t care about you, why do they bother to give you some comments?”

Despite the possibility that an unexpected crisis may take place on social media, McDonald’s Hong Kong still spends a lot resources on digital platforms to further engage customers. For example, the restaurant is considering launching an official Instagram account managed by a “young team” – currently only Hong Kong’s McCafé has an account on this platform.

McDonald’s Hong Kong targets customers from all walks of life, according to Lai. Apart from online promotions, the restaurant has been spending a lot of resources on offline platforms to reach mature generations. Traditional platforms and digital promotions are considered when it comes to launching marketing campaigns.

To Hongkongers, McDonald’s Hong Kong’s branches are not only literally restaurants, but also places for family and friends to gather. The Tai Wo Estate branch, a landmark renowned for its status of a
house with a blue roof, transformed into the first family flagship restaurant in Hong Kong in 2015 with facilities such as baby care room and outdoor PlayPlace.

After operating for 36 years, the Yue Man Square branch in Kwun Tong closed in 2017 because of the rebuild of the area. On the last opening day on 30 August, hundreds of customers flocked to the  restaurant to enjoy their last supper – some of them had witnessed many changes over the years.

Some of the patrons had been loyal customers for decades and said the branch was part of their teenage memories. “I was a fan of McDonald’s when I was a kid. It brought me a lot of joy and influence,” Lai says.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Randy Lai is the fi rst CEO nurtured in this market. She joined McDonald’s in 1998. Other than a regular application process, Lai called the management of the  marketing department of McDonald’s Hong Kong. In the end, she landed a job in McDonald’s China’s marketing team. In 2009, she was offered two paths: a marketing position in Hong Kong, or to be promoted to management, but she had to work her way up from the Admiralty restaurant as part of the prerequisite.

As a front line staff member, she realised how to operate a restaurant, conducive to her current position as CEO.

“Dealing with external parties is enough for a marketer,” she says. “As management, I have to handle both external and internal stakeholders. How to collaborate with our colleagues is always the top priority in running a restaurant.”

She has worked for McDonald’s in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Singapore. Speaking of the difference among these regions, she says Hong Kong serves as an innovation hub, with a series of exclusive products catered for Hongkongers.

McDonald’s Taiwan is the relatively spacious with a lot of family-friendly facilities in the stores. Singaporean stores are rather similar to Hong Kong, while China is a very exciting market with tremendous growth opportunities.

Lai assumed office in 2011. She says building the connection between McDonald’s Hong Kong and customers is of utmost importance. She says operating a Western food brand is no easy task in Hong Kong compared with Chinese restaurants. With a history of more than 43 years, McDonald’s Hong Kong has managed to establish a strong foothold.

“We won’t be complacent about what we have achieved,” she says. “Our team is always looking for opportunity and excitement.”

Asked about her achievements in the position, she sits back for a while to ponder and then says being able to influence the public.

“McDonald’s Hong Kong still has a refreshing image among the public and I would like to say a big thank you to our team members for their hard work and innovation. I truly believe our team will keep exploring new trends and surprise our customers,” she concludes.