#3 on the Franchise 500: McDonald's Had a Bumpy Year, But Still Leads in Innovation

The #3 company on our Franchise 500 list is betting on technology to drive future sales.

This story appears in the January 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

From the remote island of Mauritius to the distant deserts of Kuwait, you can’t escape the Big Mac. The world is home to more than 38,000 McDonald’s. So what’s left to conquer? 

Courtesy of McDonald's

Try Silicon Valley. Ronald McDonald has landed in tech land, not with burgers but with newly acquired technology that aims to disrupt the fast-food world it helped build

McDonald’s has ranked near the top of the Franchise 500 for the past three years, and much of the credit goes to its push toward modernization. With its $10 billion system-wide store redesign nearly complete, McDonald’s is now uploading new tech to accelerate its race toward the future.  

Related: 5 Things You Should Know Before You Buy a McDonald's Franchise

In 2019, the company acquired two companies that signal its ambitions: Dynamic Yield, which builds digital menu displays that tailor suggestions to the time of day, weather, and items already in customers’ orders; and Apprente, a voice-based AI company that will kick off the newly minted McD Tech Labs in Mountain View, Calif. 

But despite $21 billion in 2018 revenues, the fast-food OG faced some challenges last year. CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired over a consensual relationship with an employee, and despite a 5.9 percent increase in global same-store sales, third-­quarter earnings fell short of expectations. (The company would not make an executive available for an interview for this story.) That said, revenues spiked by $61.2 million, and redesigned stores are seeing mid-single-digit uplifts in sales. The good news has insulated the company from the bad, and it’s currently riding on 17 consecutive quarters of growth. During his last earnings call in October, Easterbrook said he expected McDonald’s recently added delivery program to drive $4 billion in sales by the end of 2019; McDonald’s is now filling 10 delivery orders every second.

It may be too early to assess the company’s tech gamble. “But if it brings down the speed of service, it’s worth it,” says longtime restaurant analyst Howard Penney at Hedgeye Risk Management. “McDonald’s is the first. They are leading the way. Nobody is doing what they are.”

Check out our complete Franchise 500 rankings, or view more stories here.

Take our franchise quiz to find the perfect match for you.