McDonald's May Outsource Drive-Thrus

McDonald's Corp. (MCD) said on Thursday it is looking into using remote call centers to take customer orders in an effort to improve service at its drive-through restaurants.

"If you're in L.A.... and you hear a person with a North Dakota accent taking your order, you'll know what we're up to," McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner (search) told investors during a presentation at the Bear Stearns Retail, Restaurants & Apparel Conference in New York.

Call center professionals with "very strong communication skills" could help boost order accuracy and ultimately speed up the time it takes customers to get in and out of the drive-thrus, the company said.

Revamping its drive-thrus is one of the latest initiatives in McDonald's more than two-year-long effort to revitalize sales. The company's flagship U.S. business has benefited in the last year from the introduction of healthier menu items like entree-sized salads and apple slices, later hours, and cashless payments.

McDonald's European business, however, has lagged behind the United States in part due to economic weakness in places like Germany.

On Thursday, McDonald's Chief Financial Officer Matthew Paull said the company was making the right moves in Europe by introducing new menu items and focusing on lower-priced offerings, but warned that a turnaround would not be as strong as the one the company has experienced in the United States.

"It's unrealistic to expect that a turnaround in Europe will be as dramatic as in the U.S.," Paull said.

As part of the chain's plan to boost sales in Europe, its No. 2 market, McDonald's this week introduced several new Happy Meal (search) choices in the United Kingdom.

Kids ordering Happy Meals in the United Kingdom will be now be able to have a bag of carrot sticks instead of French fries. The company also added grilled chicken strips called Chicken Grills, fruit jelly made with 99-percent real fruit, and two new no-sugar-added drinks to its list of Happy Meal offerings.

McDonald's spokeswoman Anna Rozenich said the new U.K. Happy Meal choices would not necessarily be rolled out in the United States as local management teams make individual choices about what will work in their markets.

"We would never want to make assumptions about one marketplace over another," she said.

McDonald's shares rose 22 cents, or less than 1 percent, to close at $32.75 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange (search).