The assembly line went from industrial novelty within the Ford plant to standard in a rather short amount of time. Since then, assembly line tactics have trickled into many other businesses, including fast food restaurants. Particularly McDonald's. Assembly line, mass produced food is so entrenched within the golden arches that their competitors actively trade on the fact that "special orders don't upset" them.

In this emerging era of consumer-accessible one-off manufacturing -- from moderately custom cell phones to sneakers designed to the particular foot -- it only follows that McDonald's would attempt to capitalize on this change. And of course, since we're talking about food preparation, this step forward could also be seen as a step backwards, to the days of food prepared fresh for the customer. But it's fast food, so this is progress.

According to an article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the fast food restaurant is testing a custom order system powered by an iPad. Customers are able to select from more than 20 topping & sauce varieties and, upon confirming the order, the hamburger is cooked to order. The move comes as the company works to improve its core business -- speedy service and affordable food -- with menu reductions and potential redesigned drive-thrus, and stands as a polar contrast. The custom hamburgers at McDonald's take longer to prepare and cost more than the company's signature Big Mac. McDonald's is seemingly willing to sacrifice speed and price if the custom product helps the company resonate with Millennials. Businesses across the industrial landscape are facing these decisions daily, as customization becomes a demanded option from an increasingly fickle and diverse consumer base.

So far, the custom hamburger ordering option is only being tested within one region within California and McDonald's has been quick to note that, even if it doesn't become a viable option to implement across its chain, the customer data it generates can be used to steer future products.
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Nicholas Hamner

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