Japan Today

McDonald’s gets flak for removing menus from counters

By Philip Kendall

On Oct 1, McDonald’s Japan took the sudden and seemingly unnecessary step of removing menus from its counters, instead asking customers to make their selection before stepping up to order.

This very minor change had a strangely jarring effect on us when we visited the restaurant, perhaps conditioned by years of frequenting fast food joints and coffee outlets where the menu is, usually, right next to the cash register to at least glance at.

According to recent reports, that feeling of confusion is not limited to us alone.

Itai News reports that many Japanese still remain confused by the change at their favorite fast food outlet, and, on visiting a handful of restaurants, reporters noted that there seemed to be a number of customers standing around looking up at the menu boards, with the whole ordering process seemingly taking longer than it used to.

Teething troubles or just a flat-out bad idea?

McDonald’s official position on the matter is that “By removing the menu from our counters, we help speed up the ordering process; rather than studying the menu once they have reached the front of the line, customers can make their decision either while waiting in line or before stepping up to the counter.”

But with so many cases of customer confusion, and many patrons gesturing to the overhead meal suggestion boards and asking staff “Is that all you have now?”, it would seem that Mickey D’s plan isn’t working out quite as it had hoped.

Let’s take a look at some of the online chatter and see how Johnny Public feels about the recent move:

“Um, I could have told you that this was a crappy idea from the start…”

“Did they really test this out on so few stores that they didn’t realise it would be a disaster?”

“A better way to speed things up would be to have more staff manning more registers.”

“’Please only visit once you’re memorised our entire menu!’ LOL”

“The overhead menus only show value meals- where are the individual items?”

With space limited and land at a premium in cities like Tokyo, many fast food restaurants operate out of extremely narrow buildings with the first floor comprising of the entrance and ordering counter alone, with customer seating provided on two or more floors above. Especially in areas like Shinjuku and Shibuya, where the counter is often barely six feet away from the entrance to the busy street, the removal of the counter menu has resulted in small crowds of people milling about in the cramped space, scratching their heads in confusion.

For customers who struggle to make out the overhead menu, small card menus are available at the counter, but only upon request.

“This is pretty poor service;” said one frequent visitor to the restaurant, “maybe they should have asked a few more customers’ opinions before taking this step.”

With some branches in Shinjuku reported to have returned menus to the counter, stating that “we are extremely busy here, and had many customers asking to see a menu…”, perhaps Ronald McDonald and his corporate friends will be rethinking their recent move in the very near future.

Source: Itai News

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Simply a bad idea. Bring the menus back.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Must be cultural. Japanese prefer to have their eyes cast downward when confronting strangers? I have no problem looking up at the board.

-22 ( +8 / -30 )

This clever little trick has nothing to do with speeding up the lines. Rather, McD is clearly pushing customers to order "value meal" sets instead of individual "tanpin" items.

17 ( +19 / -3 )

People with hearing disabilities are in trouble/difficulties with this "bad step."

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Not only that, it's bad for their foreign customers, too! Before you could just point at the picture of what you want on the menu. Pointing up at the board won't be so easy anymore. Not only that, but on the reverse side of the Japanese menu, they have an English version. Not that you'd ever need it, since every menu item has a picture next to it...

If they wanted to speed it up, why not just have a couple extra staff hand out menus to people waiting in the line, like they do at Starbucks?

12 ( +12 / -2 )

I go to McDonald's often and I actually wen't yesterday. I looked up at the main menu board above the counter and yes it really does not have much information on it.... My wife had to ask for a menu to decide what she wanted..She does not eat value meals...but rather she likes individual items...so this will be really annoying for her and I guess many other people. Including my self.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I can understand the logic behind the step -- nothing is more annoying than when someone steps up to a counter, be it at Mickey D's, a bank, or somewhere else and THERE starts to think about what they want! -- but they should have tested it out at one or two shops first before doing what they always do here and make a blanket decision.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

My wife cant see the text on the menu now, so she just orders the set menus she has memorized rather than try to guess the individual items

Wouldnt be quite so bad if the set menus werent incredibly bad value (Is Japan the only country where a drink/burger/chips set menu costs more than ordering individually (with an extra burger instead of fries)?)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Actually I agree with Mac, at least in USA, where ordering area is usually wide and there is plenty of space to stand around looking at the overhead menu. It's irritating when people in line in front of u haven't made up their mind abt what to order!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Total crap idea, I went to there the other day to order something and found it crap because you couldn't look at what they had for sale. Guess it cuts down on the impulse purchases.

Like other posters said HIRE MORE STAFF!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I always wanted to see in advance but the person at the front of the line usually hunkered over the menu and totally blocked it off.

They should have had a line of menus across the counter for the people behind to see in adavnce.

This new system is not helpful to the customer as there is no detail any more.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Restaurant menus (not only McDonalds) get frayed and grubby very fast, being handled by so many people in the course of just a day. So to put it nicely, they're filthy. Makdo here probably made a wise choice in terms of sanitation. Most of its customers are regulars and can recite the menu backwards and forwards from memory anyway.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

The picture of set items are not that clear.

Once I order #6 thinking I would get the Mcmuffin on an English muffin but instead I got one of those God awful McGriddle buns wrapped around my sausage.

Should have went with #5 that is now #1.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Years ago the entire menu used to be on the overhead boards, which meant that you could browse and choose what you wanted whilst you were waiting to be served (so very little of the problem of people choosing when they reach the counter); now it's just advertising space for the set meals.

Aren't the people who make these decisions supposed to be smart people with business/marketing degrees? Why no-one ever consults the front line staff on how it has affected things is a constant surprise to me.

Another problem with the "no menu" ideas is that McD's in Japan aren't always consistent in what they serve. I sometimes go to one near a school I work at, which doesn't have Apple pies, nor 1/4 pounders; not just out of stock, they are never stocked. Used to have a sticker over them; that was bad enough...

Starbucks Japan, even whilst having overhead menus, also has the good idea of getting a member of staff to hand out menus to queueing customers at busy times.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

bad move but easy fix! can have full menu on the board or wall at the side of the counter.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Even before they did this I thought it was ridiculous that they didn't have a full menu available before the counter. It was intensely frustrating for me because I WANT to decide what I'll get before I get to the register, but it's impossible if you want something other than the few items they have overhead.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Ridiculous or not, don't worry about McDonald's, folks. A big successful company like theirs will get the message from the customers and figure it out. I hope the CEOs are reading these responses and getting on top of it NOW,

0 ( +1 / -1 )

i suspect it is to pressurise more people into ordering the Sets........i think in the current economic climate, more people were choosing single items on the menu to keep costs down

0 ( +0 / -0 )

i dont see the problem. I have been looking up all my life at the menu board. I doubt it would really save them that much money. If people don't like it they should bring it back. BUT... I still don't see the problem.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think the idea is to cut cost, rather than speeding up the process of ordering. Those menus at the counter needs to be reprinted everytime they have a new kid's menu, so I guess thats a total waste.

I agree that this isn't customer friendly, but if they have leaflet style menus at the counter, I think that will be good enough for me. I try to order the value sets on the "Kazasu Coupon(mobile)", so my choice is rather limited anyway.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

customers can make their decision either while waiting in line or before stepping up to the counter

Yes. Just like they do at the JR machines. You never see people looking up at the map to find their fare and then start digging through their purse for change once they are at the machine do you? I'm sure McD will be equally speedy and successful in this new concept.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I would say a good 3 out of 5 times in Canada i get people in front of me confused looking up at the board. It saves no time. It seems people need to think when they are at the till. I liked the picture menu beside the till when wife and i were in Kyoto.

Maybe a cellphone menu should have been added as well before this change. The reader boards really arent that informative.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If they're going to do this, they need to use larger print for the overhead menus. Nearsighted people can pull their eyes a little closer to the menu if it's right in front of them; if it's behind the server, five meters away, they can't do this. Print the overhead menus nice and big so that everybody can read them.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In other countries those overhead and sideboard menus are usual. There are not menus at the counter. Since I'm used to it I make up my mind before stepping up to the counter... which might have confused a few japanese in the past :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

it would be fine to remove the menus if McDs would put up all the items avaiable on the signboards. the signboards now just list a few set items and some special burgers. so you walk in not knowing what you can or can't order. WTF?!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The best thing with those counter menues was that in many places, when you flipped the menu around, there was a...ENGLISH menu! Not that it was really required. But I always liked at pointing at one before my Japanese was better.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

McD has been training workers, customers, suppliers, etc. for year on how to behave to increase McD profits. Why stop now. Customers already server themselves and clear up after so they could cut the cost of waiters. Now eliminate menus and make people decide before entering what they want. Next you'll have to send in your order by smartphone before you get their.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Me: Cheezu ba-ga- onegai. Cashier: Me: Cheeeeezu baaaa-gaaa- onegaishimasu. Cashier: Chi-kenu ba-ga- desu ka? Me: Chigau. Cheeeeeeeeze baaaaaaaaaaaa-gaaaaaaaa. Cashier: Daberu cheezu ba-ga-? Me: Kore. Sanpin. Cashier: Hai.

McDonalds has clearly misidentified the problem here. The menus SPEED UP service, they don't slow it down.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Since I don't speak Japanese, I used to order by pointing at my choice on the menu. Not elegant, but effective.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have a feeling the public has spoken. McDs should be putting the menus back on the counter again soon.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Australia only has the menu board as well and it is very, very annoying. It takes people a lot longer to order, and they don't have the whole menu on display. You have to look at other posters, etc. in the store to see what else they have. The menus at the counter are much more convenient, faster and you would think create more sales as the WHOLE menu is right there in front of your eyes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Put the whole damn menu on the wall over where you order (like in every other damn country) and be done with it. Why place have no menus on the wall and only offer them at the till is a huge time waster. Nothing like getting behind a family who doesn't know what they want. No place? Lies. There is plenty of space on the side walls and front walls. I agree with whomever said this is a marketing ploy to get people to buy sets only.

Yet another reason why I won't go to McDs. Been two years already - though I did go in for free coffee in Canada this summer as a friend wanted some.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Put the whole damn menu on the wall over where you order (like in every other damn country) and be done with it. Why place have no menus on the wall and only offer them at the till is a huge time waster. Nothing like getting behind a family who doesn't know what they want. No place? Lies. There is plenty of space on the side walls and front walls. I agree with whomever said this is a marketing ploy to get people to buy sets only.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I was just there. Yes, it is annoying to crank your neck at the overhead menu, especially if your eyesight is not perfect any more. I wonder how far they want to go with this streamlining.... route the customers through the kitchen to fry their own?

I don´t like it. I think I´ll take slightly longer trip to Mosburger on my junkfood day.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Don't like Maccie D's but think the loss of a menu by the till is awful.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Sadly SwissToni doesn't see distances as well he used to. I recently got caught by this and felt a bit of a fool as I joined the others jostling for a view of the board. I still couldn't read the board clearly when I got to the counter so I gave up and fell back on a standard Big Mac meal. I was disappointed with the whole experience. Mrs Swiss doesn't like me eating fast food, I imagine she's had a hand in this.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


" Before you could just point at the picture of what you want on the menu. Pointing up at the board won't be so easy anymore. "

Well, you better bring a very long stick if you go to Mac D now.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Years ago the entire menu used to be on the overhead boards, which meant that you could browse and choose what you wanted whilst you were waiting to be served

They no longer do this because they want to use the boards as advertising to flog their new, more expensive or limited-time items. Their burger-of-the-month promotion was hugely successful, because they managed to put little twists on a boring food item and up the price. It's all about up-selling, as Kaminari suggested.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You can't argue with these Supercompanies... they make a decision, they'll stick with them - no matter how wrong they are.

I can read Katakana and Hiragana okay, but on the odd occasion I went into a McD for a Teriyaki burger it was nice to see a selection on the menu that I could order.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You can't argue with these Supercompanies... they make a decision, they'll stick with them - no matter how wrong

Like new Coke, Thunder?

They'll turn around if it's in their financial interest to.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Who cares?

Why have menus anyway?

It all tastes the same and it's the same old reconstituted garbage.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )


" You can't argue with these Supercompanies "

Yes you can. With your wallet. Nobody forces you to eat their gunk, if they loose enough customers, they will change their policy quickly.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

If they were not ashamed of what they sell, they'd display the menu in the street. I'd have no complex stepping in and asking the staff to recite me the full menu, then saying "Thanks, I was hoping you'd make some beef Stroganoff with a S size fries, well I will think about it and maybe come back to order.".

You can't argue with these Supercompanies... they make a decision, they'll stick with them - no matter how wrong they are

Absolutely. Then, we no longer see them.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

How about putting a list of the actual contents of McDonald's "fare" in the toilets?

That would give you one "last chance" to . . .

Dump it or digest it!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Welcome to america is what I have to say. We have had that here for a long time. Its an american company. get used to it.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Ben4short hit the nail on the head when said that it's to push their "value" meals (which of course are more expensive than buying one or two menu items.)

Also like another poster mentioned above, the FULL menu used to be overhead so you could easily decide what you wanted before getting to the counter.

They gradually dwindled the overhead menu down to the set items and left the full menu on the counter. Now that's missing! It's also hard to find the individual prices of the new burgers, too.

Talk about slowing things down. Silly marketing tricks.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Judging from some of these comments, I've forgotten what it's like to live in a big city where having to wait an extra 30 seconds or so for someone to make up their mind about what to order can be so troublesome. Is it really that big a deal? Anyway, if they get enough complaints, I'm sure McDs will go back to the counter menus.

On a side issue: Really miss the Teriyaki burger and the chicken Tatsuta, surprisingly. Can't get them here. Maybe I'll suggest McDs USA try out some of their overseas menu items locally. I think it would be interesting to try to some other things, and I imagine the Teriyaki & Tatsuta would be popular here.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It will not fasten things up,it'll consume more time. People will queue looking at the menu before ordering. While they are doing this the people who are ready and waiting,well they'll have to wait longer. It's the same for the recharge/fare adjustment machines at the stations people walk up,then get their card,then look for some cash and finally it's done.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

works well in Aussie, people who know what they want order to the guy standing out front with a mobile ordering thingy and then all you do at the counter is pay. It's not food worth wasting time on being selective, "Junk Food". You want a menu go to a real food joint.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It's not food worth wasting time on being selective,

It's worth for your wallet. Because everything tastes roughly the same, OK, so you get the same for 300 yen or 900 yen, you go with 4 brats and 2 adults. You can pay 2000 yen or 5000 yen... They push the more expensive formula with big posters and they don't want to let you a possibility to calculate. Obviously that works.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I've never seen menus on the counter next to the register until I came to Japan. Every country where I've been to McD (several that I didn't speak the language) looking up to the big board wasn't a problem.

This isn't rocket science. Not that I got out to eat often anyway.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Simple solution for those who don’t like the removal of the menus - don’t eat at Mc Donald’s - your body will thank you.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

back on the counter here on Okinawa. they are a lot smaller now, but they also still have an english menu.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I went into my local Mickey D's on Thursday and was all prepared to order a Double Quarter Pounder... I get to the front of the line, look down and said in English-- "Where the f*** da menu go?" because I was tired, and didn't see my burger on the overhead sign. I regained composure and asked in Japanese "Do you not have Double Quarter Pounders anymore?" "Of course we do." "Well, where is it on the menu...where's the menu by the way?" "Its behind me overhead" ... "Of course, but there's no DQP up there." She then turns and looks at the overhead menu. "I'm so sorry sir, you're right." Then she reaches down and pulls out an index card menu "It's right here though sir, so you can order it." "Ummmm. Ok. Yes I'll have the value set too...Why'd y'all get rid of the counter menu?" "I'm really not sure sir..." "I see..."

There are certain things I think that are done perfectly right in the country, and wish they'd be replicated elsewhere. The counter menu signs are one of those things. McDonald's should never fix what isn't broken.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Is this an excuse to downsize to Japan McDonald's head marketing office? They obviously don't any work if they can't handle the slow methodical process to any part of customer experience.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I love Jason Gatewood's 7:52PM post, ha ha!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

It's been a long time since I was in a Macdonald's, here in Canada, but as I recall, there was never a menu on a counter - they were all on display boards above head level behind the clerks at the counter. While waiting to be served, you looked up at the menu and when it was your turn at the counter you ordered. Simple. What's not so simple is understanding why Macdonald's put their menu on the counters in Japan in the first place - I just can't buy the opinion that Japanese people always like to look down, in what appears to be a subservient attitude. Probably just my Canadian-ness, eh?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

McDonaldos Japan Marketing advice:

since everybody has mobile phones it should broadcast the menus automatically

just text " MAC " and the menu should pop up !!!!!

problem solved

0 ( +0 / -0 )


just text " MAC " and the menu should pop up !!!!!

Consultants get paid millions of yen for ideas like that.

whiskeysour Marketing advice:

Don't give away clever ideas for free on the internet! :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

vote with your wallet then.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, chip, chip. No Coke. Pepsi." - John Belushi

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"Order by number 1 - 2 - 3, it's as easy to learn as your A - B - Cs" - Food Police

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

MD is not selling you real food so why should you expect real "menus"? Don't go there for food. Zillions of better options in Japan. Corporate food has only the profit line interest of the corporate overlords at heart, not yours.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

McDonalds wants to enforce familiarity of its menu. Think about it. No traditional restaurant would make you look up at a sign as though ordering food were the same as commuting to work.

They want to make themselves a natural, ritualized part of your life. Looking down at a menu signifies unfamiliarity, which must be discouraged.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It's economics, people. Think about it: Anytime we want to change the menu, should we make the change to just the menu board, or the menu board and then print-up five or six (minimum) menus the customers can hold in their hands?

As for "a-la-carte" items, McDonalds in the U.S. offers each of the sandwiches by themselves as well as part of a meal. That's on the menu board (and recently they even added calorie information for everything on the menu board as well). There's a separate menu for "Dollar Menu" items which are also a-la-carte. If McDonalds-Japan isn't doing it that way, then they must have felt there was some cultural difference that would have made it worse than it already is.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If McDonalds-Japan isn't doing it that way, then they must have felt there was some cultural difference that would have made it worse than it already is.

It may be the scads of kogyaaru who congregate, order a burger and occupy the place. Mac is pushing the sets.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

oh! now i knw the reason why they removed it! gaijin who really don't knw hw to speak nihongo had a hard time ordering still unlike when there is a menu we cn easily point what we want to order... i don't like this idea...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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