I recently read an article about the new McDonald’s concept – offering gourmet coffees at McDonald’s restaurants. The McCafe has apparently been around for a few years, but had not yet hit Thailand. So I was delighted to see a new McDonald’s ‘McCafe’ at the mall closest to me in Bangkok.
Major Mall is located near the intersection of Pahonyothin Road and Ratchadapisek in northern Bangkok, and is only a 5 minute walk from where I live. I was there two nights ago for dinner at a chicken street stall with friends and we all decided, after eating, a latte would be a nice end to the evening. None of us had yet tried the McDonald’s version so that was where we decided to go.
The McDonald’s restaurant itself is right at the front of the mall as you walk in the mall entrance. The first thing I noticed were the brown ‘McCafe’ umbrellas outside and the nice rote iron and wood chairs and tables. This definitely looked more ‘Starbucks’ than ‘McDonald’s so I was quite excited.
Upon going inside the mall entrance, we noticed the main counter for McDonald’s food is inside the restaurant, whereas the McCafe counter was on the outside of the restaurant facing into the mall. As it’s only a few feet away from a small courtyard Starbucks, that seemed like a good marketing strategy.
At the counter, you could order pretty much any type of coffee drink found at most cafes and coffee shops in Thailand, as well as cookies, small cakes and typical McDonald’s ice creams and apple pies. Because the prices of the drinks were much lower than at Starbucks (approximately 40 baht lower – around US $1.20) you could buy a latte and a dessert and still pay less than at Starbucks.
We ordered two medium café lattes and a medium cappuccino and then went to sit, as the barista (and yes, she looked like one!) said she would bring them to our table.
The first thing we noticed on sitting down was how the atmosphere was definitely not the same as at Starbucks. The place was packed with college kids doing homework or hanging out with friends, which is typical in Bangkok. McDonalds is a cheap place to eat so they’re always full of teenagers, who stay for hours.
This was definitely a downgrade of the relaxing, more hip and elegant atmosphere of Starbucks. Also, other than the umbrella seating outside on the patio, there was only a tiny space for the McCafe. For most people therefore, you have to sip your coffee in with all the McDonalds food eaters. Not really where I want to be having a relaxing latte with friends after dinner.
The lattes and cappuccino arrived within 5 minutes and were piping hot. As my normal complaint in Thailand is that the lattes are lukewarm, I was thrilled to have to blow on mine to cool it down. My friends were equally happy with the temperature of theirs.
I was also absolutely ecstatic to taste it and find it was one of the nicest lattes I’d ever had in Thailand. Smooth, not too strong, and perfectly blended coffee and milk – it was really lovely to drink. My friend also loved her latte. Our friend who had the cappuccino said it was definitely drinkable, although not one of the best she’d ever had. She did however state she would certainly think about coming back for another one, as the price was a distinct advantage over Starbucks.
One tiny thing we did notice, though, was that the two of us who had the lattes ended up with mild indigestion about 45 minutes after drinking them. I have had indigestion on occasion in Bangkok after drinking a latte, and it seems to depend on what milk they use. I drink about 5 lattes a day however, so this has become much less frequent an occurrence in the last few years. In fact, this is the first time it’s happened to me in almost 2 years.
After that one trip to the McDonald’s McCafe however, I would definitely go back for another latte. I think the next time I’ll go earlier in the day when there are not as many college kids hanging around, as the atmosphere would be nicer.
However, I do think McDonald’s needs to rethink their design of the McCafe concept. The café should be separated from the rest of the McDonald’s restaurant and should have slightly darker lighting to give it the type of ambience that’s so nice at Starbucks.
All in all I would give them an 8 out of 10 for the drink (simply because of the indigestion afterwards), a 10 out of 10 for service (the waitress/barista was lovely), and a 3 out of 10 for design of the café and atmosphere inside, with a 9 out of 10 for the design of the patio Mccafé outside. It’s a good try, but not quite as perfect as it has the potential to be. But a 7 out of 10 for effort.