Introducing a sandwich that combines a beef patty and fried shrimp is upscale enough. Borrowing a name from fine dining and called it a surf-and-turf burger is further upper class. But the Surf & Turf burger that joined the menu at McDonald’s restaurants in Austria this week has a fine-dining pedigree: It was developed for the QSR chain by Toni Mörwald, one of Austria’s most-respected chefs and restaurateurs. It continues a chef-collaboration trend in Europe by McDonald’s, which this fall introduced two McItaly burgers created by Michelin-starred Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi.
This is the culmination of McDonald’s steady upscaling of both design/decor and food in Europe. Recently, as reported here, that included the introduction in Switzerland of the McZuri, the chain’s first veal burger. Earlier this year, a mini burger topped with goat cheese joined the menu in France. Chef Marchesi’s McItaly Vivace burger was topped with bacon, salted spinach, marinated onions and mayo infused with mustard seeds. His second is even fancier in style: The McItaly Adagio has a “mousse” of eggplant combined with tomato and ricotta salata cheese on bun topped with chopped almonds. Such creations make the basic cheeseburgers we all are used to eating seem unimaginative. Chefs’ involvement also acts as an in-your-face retort to the food snobs who abhor the idea of a QSR meal.
McDonald’s has promoted its remodeling program, which has turned its European restaurants into sleek cafes. It has been more modest in bragging about the upscaling of its menu. That strategy has included creating more-sophisticated burgers under the “M Burger” name and a menu of fancier foods (the latest including breakfast choices such as a NYC Benedict Bagel) under the “M Selections” name in Australia. It also involves promoting its use of locally raised beef and produce. The “McDonald’s A to Z” TV spots in the UK trace the provenance of food served, while in Germany TV spots promote food quality through interviews with local farmer/suppliers.
In Austria, Chef Toni Mörwald has created two burgers and a chicken sandwich. Toni’s Surf & Turf, combines Austrian beef, crispy fried shrimp, tomato, cucumbers and arugula. The second burger, Toni’s McTafelschmaus (a wonderful name for a burger that roughly translates as “banquet table”) has a rösti (hash-brown potato) patty, lettuce and apple-horseradish sauce on top of Austrian beef. Toni’s Chicken Caprese sandwich is a chicken fillet with bacon, mozzarella cheese, pesto sauce and arugula.
Equally sophisticated new side dishes accompany the sandwiches: lattice-cut fries with sour-cream dip; emmental-cheese nuggets with cranberry dip and fried shrimp with chili dip.
These sophisticated products are often at the high end of the price scale, but McDonald’s keeps its array of value-price alternatives for balance in Europe as it does here. But the Golden Arches distancing itself past from low-cost/low-quality perceptions faster in Europe than in the U.S.
The upscaling strategy is working according to Jill McDonald, CEO of McDonald’s UK and president of Europe/North Division. In an interview with the Telegraph last month, McDonald said the chain’s clientele has broadened across income lines. “You get the white van man in the morning stopping in for his Egg McMuffin and you get the guy who has stopped off before his meeting with his laptop. There’s not that snobbishness about our brand anymore,” she said.
Surf & turf burgers and apple-horseradish sauce can only accelerate that.