McDonald’s goes upscale in NYC

Customers visit a new McDonald’s featuring free Wi-Fi and an art deco, European-themed design in this Nov. 4 photo in New York. The restaurant is the first McDonald’s in the nation to undergo such a makeover.

? 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 makeover similar to what McDonald’s has done at thousands of outlets around in France and the United Kingdom.

The eatery is outfitted with outlets for plugging in laptops, upholstered vinyl chairs instead of Fiberglas seats bolted to the floor, subdued lighting and employees whose all-black uniforms 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 over the last few years, the Chelsea location is the first “urban redesign” in the U.S. She said “we’ll continue to evaluate” whether more might follow.

Proud said the redesign was intended “to give our customers more of a reason to make McDonald’s a destination.”

“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.”

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.

McDonald’s does not release sales figures for individual restaurants.

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 of different sizes to accommodate small groups or an informal business meeting — and Hendel said nearby workers have started meeting there.

There are reproductions of Danish designer Arne Jacobsen’s chairs including the Egg chair, a classic of mid-century functionality that would look right at home on “The Jetsons.” Another New York City McDonald’s has a grand piano visible from the street through a second-floor window.

McDonald’s is not alone in seeking to update its image. Rival Burger King announced plans last month to overhaul its 12,000 locations with industrial-inspired corrugated metal and brick walls.

Proud said McDonald’s upscale Chelsea eatery is not a reaction to anything planned by another chain.

“This isn’t about any other brand,” she said. “This is about McDonald’s.”