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

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

Trevor Mein

· 4 min read

This story is part of our weeklong series about key trends in store design. Click here to read more.

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.

McDonald's in Sydney Airport’s Terminal 1

Trevor Mein

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.”

  • After the McDonald’s opened in 2018, it blew up on Instagram, with some passengers reportedly arriving early at the airport just to see it.

Getting involved: But it’s not just consumers’ thumbs that store designers want to set in motion. Because, along with moving merchandise, retailers are striving to make shopping more memorable than transactional. Consumers these days, after all, are more interested in spending money on experiences than on stuff.

  • 74% of Americans surveyed said that they “prioritize experiences over products and things,” according to a 2018 poll by Expedia and The Center for Generational Kinetics.
  • Only 26% of Gen Z think owning a home—the ultimate material purchase—is “extremely important,” compared to almost 35% of millennials, according to a 2021 Apartment List survey.

One takeaway for retailers has been to make the act of shopping itself more of an experience. And with the ball in their court, brands are looking to pass it to shoppers for a layup. No, really:

  • Dick’s Sporting Goods rolled out its House of Sport store concept in Victor, New York, in 2021. It has a 17,000-square-foot turf field, an outdoor track, a rock-climbing wall, a batting cage, and a putting green.
  • Wilson Sporting Goods also recently opened a store in New York that looks less like retail than recess.
Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.

In 2019, Lululemon opened a store with more than 20,000 square feet in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago that includes workout studios, a meditation space, and a restaurant.

L’Occitane debuted a flagship on 5th Avenue in Manhattan in 2018 that includes stationary bikes with a backdrop of Provence (to post faux vacation shots on Instagram). There’s also a VR experience that simulates a hot-air balloon ride through the south of France, and—to help soften the blow of the impending motion sickness, perhaps—simultaneous complimentary hand massages with the brand’s products.

Such experiential retail stores are not “primarily product focused,” said Alastair Kean, group development director at Dalziel & Pow, a brand innovation studio in London that has done projects for clients including Lululemon and Johnnie Walker. “It’s more about evangelizing a message,” he explained, and creating “a platform.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.