McDonald’s New Build Your Burger Concept (Santee)


McDonald’s has launched a new initiative called “Build Your Burger” and is piloting this concept at the Midway and Santee locations of San Diego. They are the third and fourth locations to implement the changes and started rolling them out a little over a month ago. Using a touch screen to build a burger is not new to San Diego. We first saw it at Stacked in the Fashion Valley Mall in 2011. They use iPad’s to customize a burger order tableside. But if McDonald’s can pull it off, it will be the first major fast food chain to do so. I’m sure other chains have thought about doing this themselves and I read Wendy’s is piloting a similar “build your sandwich” program in Columbus.



The advertisements are present throughout the restaurant, inside and out, and particularly prevalent right when you step inside. An employee waits eagerly by the touch screen stations to explain the new concept, and to ultimately sell you on it. It is hard to sway someone on a customized, made to order burger without selling your other products short.  And that’s kind of what happened. She said the “Build Your Burger” was way better than anything else on the menu. I don’t disagree with pushing the new “it” product hard in the beginning. That may be the only way people step outside their comfort zones and try something different. But I did find it funny how it came at the expense of making all the items that make McDonald’s, McDonald’s, look inadequate.


The start screen gives you an idea of the possibilities you now have with “Build Your Burger.” There are a few pre-made burgers you can choose from if you are lazy or just happen to find one that is perfect for you.


After you decide if you are paying with cash or credit you can begin customizing your burger if you so choose. There are only two upsells in the entire customization process. You can add extra meat patties or bacon to your burger for an extra cost. If you do not add any extra meat the burger costs $5.49, which is not that much more than a Deluxe Quarter Pounder($4.49). The breads are different from their regular burgers and you can choose from either a bakery style roll or an artisan roll. Most other fast food chains have created higher end burgers already like the six dollar burger from Carl’s Jr. which offer a more upscale bun and a variety of toppings. It would be interesting to see how McDonald’s would stack up to those.


After you select your meat and bun you get to add cheese and toppings, again all at no extra charge including the guacamole.


Last you can select the sauce to put on your burger. I couldn’t help but notice how there was no option to add sauce on the side. I asked for some mustard on the side and the woman helping me said that she would make sure to tell the people preparing the burger to give us some when they brought it out. Sounds great! We finished our order and took a seat. A few other observations. It didn’t look like you could order everything off of the regular menu. It also is a little tricky adjusting your order once you’ve already finished. But all in all, it was easy and very intuitive to maneuver through the various screens. 


We found a table, put our number on the clip, and eagerly awaited our burgers to be delivered tableside right to us. It was a little weird and didn’t quite feel like we were in a regular McDonald’s. As we were waiting another employee sitting on one of the tables closeby started chatting with us asking if we had tried it before. One of the things we wished they had an option for was to change the meat to chicken or something else. He did say that would be an option later and they may change the name from “Build Your Burger” to “Create Your Taste.” I guess the new tagline encompasses a broader range of customization. It took a little over ten minutes for our burgers to be made and delivered to us from start to finish. As our burgers were laid on the table she asked if there was anything else we needed. I noticed the side of mustard wasn’t included nor was there any ketchup for our fries so we asked her if we could get some. She quickly left and came back with a side of mustard (and a small serving spoon) and four small containers of ketchup. 


To be honest, at first look we got a little excited. It looked like a nice burger. From the moment we walked inside until now, the experience was not typical of McDonald’s. People approached and talked to us, we had our food served on a metal tray, and people in general seemed more attentive and present. I think deep down inside I wanted the burger to taste like a restaurant burger, and not like a regular Quarter Pounder With Cheese. Our first burger had cheddar cheese, mushrooms, grilled onions, crinkle cut pickles, tomato, lettuce, ketchup, on an artisan roll. I’m sad to report it was only a slightly better version of a Quarter Pounder With Cheese. The obvious difference here being the mushrooms and the grilled onions. What I really wanted the difference maker to be was the beef patty. Each fast food chain has a bread and butter beef patty that has been around forever and I’ve never thought the McDonald’s version was all that great. The beef patty on the “BYB” is the same patty they use in the Quarter Pounder With Cheese. I suppose that’s how they can keep their costs down.


Our second burger had mushrooms, tomato, lettuce, raw red onions, white cheddar cheese, and a creamy garlic sauce on a bakery style roll. This one was much better than the first. It must have been the roll and the cheese that made the difference. It actually didn’t taste as much like a QPWC, which for me is a plus. Did this change my perspective on McDonald’s? Not really. However, if given the choice and when I find myself back at McDonald’s again I would choose to make my own burger over the QPWC. The main reason I don’t find McDonald’s at the top of my fast food chain list is the taste and quality of their burgers. All the BYB did was allow me to add different toppings to try to mask the actual beef taste. If the purpose is to create something different with all these new things to pile onto your customizable burger, I believe it shouldn’t taste like anything else on the menu. Who knows, I probably came into this thing with unrealistic expectations. Certainly for $5.49 you cannot mass produce a ten dollar burger. But then again, an In N Out Cheeseburger costs $2.35…

8876 Cuyamaca St.
Santee, CA 92071

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About Darren

Fooood! I love it if you can't tell already. I love everything about it. The taste, the smell, the look, the feel, the satisfaction, the gratification, and ultimately: the fun! I've been in San Diego for about 10 years now and it amazes me that there are still places to uncover. Traveling, eating, and taking pictures of food has always been a hobby of mine. So naturally Michael and I thought it made sense to share what we found with all of you. I tend to side with the savory but never shy away from a knock out dessert. If you have a place you think we haven't tried let us know! We're always on the lookout...

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4 Comments on “McDonald’s New Build Your Burger Concept (Santee)”

  1. Thanks for this article; I’ve noticed a canopy out front of this McDonalds for about the past month and was wondering what they were doing in there. It’s interesting and now I’ll try it, even though my primary order at McDonalds is the Filet o Fish: all locations have a FoF Friday (lower price-not just during Lent).

    The Santee Jack in the Box has had a self order and pay kiosk for years. You can customize everything on the menu (other than ordering an extra patty or adding cheese to your fries).

    1. Hi Cindy, we saw the canopy after we turned into the parking lot. They didn’t seem to be doing anything with it at the time, so it must have been there for when they first started the BYB program.

      Funny how you mentioned the Jack in the Box kiosk. I was just on a road trip up north and we noticed a Jack in the Box with a kiosk as well. Everyone in line was too scared to use it though. 🙂

  2. I’m not sure I’m totally sold on the build your burger thing. It is… after all…. still McDonald’s, haha. If I could custom order my french fries to ensure they are pipping hot, then you’ve sold me. The burgers… well, not so much.

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