A futuristic McDonald’s in Australia is on the cutting edge of experiential retail

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Trevor Mein
To keep consumers engaged, more store designers are pushing the “wow” button.

Everyone’s seen more McDonald’s than they can remember. But there’s one McDonald’s that, once they see it, they never forget.

It’s in Sydney Airport’s Terminal 1, and it wasn’t conceived, at least not initially, to stop passengers and their Samsonites in their tracks. At first, it was just about addressing a challenge: The space available in the terminal was only enough for Mickey D’s kitchen alone, leaving no room for the self-ordering kiosks where customers tap in their orders or the counter where workers hand over the Cokes and Big Macs.

Searching for a solution, Landini Associates, the Sydney-based design studio tasked with designing the location (and McDonald’s worldwide), did what comes naturally at an airport: They looked skyward.

Behold the result: The kitchen is enclosed in a yellow-tinted glass cube that seems to float above the counter. In the magical yellow glow, you’d think the workers were alchemists if you didn’t actually see them assembling Quarter Pounders. After they prepare the orders, they clamp the bags into an ingenious Rube Goldberg contraption—it’s like a chairlift for Happy Meals—that transports them from the kitchen to the counter.

Mark Landini, creative director of Landini Associates, told Retail Brew that one reason for fishbowling the kitchen is “because transparency is becoming much more important in our work.”

The contraption that transports the bags from the upper to lower levels, meanwhile, is common in Asia, where street-level space is at such a premium that kitchens are often located on upper floors, but there it is generally concealed by ducts, not showcased for its entertainment value.

“Normally that was hidden,” Landini said. “We’re showing people how things work because they’re really interested.” He added that, after people spent much of the pandemic alone staring at their devices, now that they’re venturing out, it’s vital to put more pizzazz into their paths. “I think the real world is becoming increasingly important as we slip into this mesmeric state of the virtual,” he said. “Shops are increasingly important…as an opportunity to create community.”

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