Rick Darmody 

Burgers, beef, Bluetooth and that 'golden handshake'

Ricky Darmody oversees 26 family-owned McDonald's franchises.

Bingo Barnes

Ricky Darmody oversees 26 family-owned McDonald's franchises.

Rick Darmody was 14 years old when his family moved to Boise in 1984. By the time he was 16 and a student at Bishop Kelly High, the highlight of his day was helping out at the local McDonald's after school. It was more than a part-time job. It was the family business.

"In the evenings, I would love it when my dad would drive around to some of his McDonald's franchises. We would go through the drive-thru, so they didn't know that the owner was the customer," said Darmody. "He would always check on how they were doing and give them feedback. I learned a lot from him."

More than three decades later, Darmody now oversees the family-owned McDonald's franchises—there are 26 of them—from Boise to Caldwell, Kuna to Emmett. But some of the biggest changes to the franchises are happening in 2018: kiosk ordering, tableside service, cooked-to-order burgers and Bluetooth technology, to name a few. Between greeting customers and demonstrating the new McDonald's ordering system, Darmody opened up about finding the ideal balance of consistency and change.

McDonald's has never really reinvented itself, but the brand has certainly pressed the reset button on the McDonald's experience.

Those of us who have worked in this business for a while know that a lot of customers love McDonald's because it stays the same. But there's nothing consistent about McDonald's other than the fact that it's always changing. So, from our perspective, we're always tweaking things, updating procedures and even the way we deliver food to our customers.

One of those bigger updates came when McDonald's decided to offer more healthy choices.

It was a global commitment from McDonald's. I think it goes all the way back to when President Clinton was in office. We're still making adjustments to some of our recipes. Sure, french fries are always available, and soda could be a treat, but our Happy Meals are much more focused on fresh fruit options and [have] a greater focus on water or fruit juices.

I think one of the biggest changes I've ever seen at McDonald's is the cook-to-order Quarter Pounder.

That's right—with fresh, not frozen, beef. We're doing that now at all our locations. It's interesting to note that with fresh ground beef, there's a lot less waste by not using the pre-made frozen patties. It's a big change all the way through our supply chain and our kitchens. We like to think it's a pretty big change for our customers too.

Talk a bit about how customers can customize their orders via your kiosks.

You'll be able to tell us exactly how you want that burger. You can even customize your french fries. Say, for example, you don't want any salt. And with each change, we update the nutrition information of your order. Then you choose a table tent, check out and head to your table.

How will staff know where to bring the order?

Each of those small table tents is equipped with Bluetooth technology pointing the server to where you're sitting.

And what's the advantage of your new smartphone app?

Say you want to grab something on your way to work. You can place your order on your smartphone, and as you get closer to the restaurant, the GPS technology sees that you're arriving. You can pull into the drive-thru or park at one of our special parking spots and we'll bring your order out to you. You can even place your order at the Boise airport and pick up that order in a different city when you arrive there. We'll know when you're near the spot.

Your family has probably hired thousands of people over the years. Pardon the pun, but what's the secret sauce in hiring great customer service employees?

My dad taught me years ago, "Hire personality. Hire smiles." Our system can train almost anyone, but it's really hard to train someone to smile. You can coach them. You can encourage them. But it has to be instinctual. If it's not natural, customers can tell.

McDonald's, worldwide, has a pretty unique relationship with Idaho, going back to J.R. Simplot. [In 1967, Simplot struck a deal with then McDonald's CEO Ray Kroc to make Simplot the first frozen french fry supplier to the fast food chain.]

It was called the "Golden Handshake." Today, the [J.R.] Simplot Company is an amazing partner. My father and I are fortunate to spend time with the Simplot folks and their management team. And it's still a family business. I just saw a number of the Simplots at the big McDonald's Worldwide Convention in Orlando a few weeks ago. I'm not sure many people realize how much the Simplots do in our community. They've been particularly supportive of our local Ronald McDonald House near St. Luke's Hospital. My mom, Sally, is a founding board member of the Ronald McDonald House, and my sister Becky and I are also on that board. It's an amazing home away from home for families of children being treated at St. Luke's. It's a phenomenon how many people's lives they've touched, and that's a big part of what we do. Sometimes it's burgers. Sometimes it's fries. Sometimes it's technology. It always has been and always will be about families.

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