- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

NEW YORK | Danish Modern furniture. Flat-screen TVs. Free Wi-Fi.

You want fries with that?

A McDonald’s in Midtown Manhattan became the first in the U.S. this fall to undergo a sleek, European-style make-over similar to what McDonald’s has done at thousands of outlets in France and the United Kingdom.

The eatery has outlets for plugging in laptops, upholstered vinyl chairs instead of Fiberglas seats bolted to the floor, subdued lighting and all-black employee uniforms that suggest a hip boutique.

“It’s like a lounge,” said Kimberly Burgess, one of many patrons who did a double take after entering the newly renovated restaurant in Manhattan’s Chelsea section. “It’s so different from all the other McDonald’s. It’s beautiful.”

Franchise owner Paul Hendel said customers have settled down in a restaurant not known for patrons lingering over lunch.

“We’re becoming a more relevant type of restaurant for the younger crowd,” he said. “They don’t feel rushed. They’re reading the newspaper, relaxed.”

McDonald’s Corp. spokeswoman Danya Proud said that while thousands of the chain’s 14,000 restaurants have been updated in the past few years, the Chelsea location is the first “urban redesign” in the U.S. She said the company will “continue to evaluate” whether more might follow.

“People are using our restaurants differently today than they did five, 10, 20 years ago,” she said. “People are multitasking, doing more on a given day. … You want to be able to open your laptop, log on and get some work done while you’re eating.”

Miss Proud said the redesigned European restaurants - along with menu items geared toward the customer base in different countries - have been responsible for McDonald’s growth in Europe.

McDonald’s has experienced strong sales in the U.S. during the recession, though the chain said this week that its monthly U.S. sales growth edged down in October. European sales were up 6.4 percent for the month.

The menu at the 186-seat Chelsea outlet is the same as any other McDonald’s, but the differences are stark. The walls are decorated with bold vertical stripes or with what looks like a zebra design but is actually French architect Philippe Avanzi’s magnified thumbprint. Tables are different sizes to accommodate small groups or an informal business meeting.

When McDonald’s hired Mr. Avanzi in 2006 to help redesign its European outlets, he brought in Danish furniture producer Fritz Hansen to supply authentic Arne Jacobsen chairs.

But Mr. Hansen, the sole licensed manufacturer of the Danish designer’s chairs, ended the partnership because McDonald’s was also buying unauthorized copies.

Miss Proud said the chairs at the New York store are “modeled after” the Jacobsens, whose designs included the Egg chair.

Rival Burger King announced plans last month to overhaul its 12,000 locations with industrial-inspired corrugated metal and brick walls.

Miss Proud said the upscale Chelsea eatery is not “about any other brand. This is about McDonald’s.”

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