MCDONALD'S CAFE DISHES UP SERVICE

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A McDonald's franchisee in Raleigh, N.C. is testing a concept other fast-food restaurants have found unsuccessful-table service.

At the new McDonald's Cafe, customers place orders at the counter and receive stand-up number cards, which they place on their tables while they wait for servers to deliver the food. It is the only McDonald's restaurant currently offering table service.

The cafe's burgundy and pink interior features upscale lighting fixtures and tables adorned with flowers and overhead umbrellas.

The menu includes sandwich baskets, an idea Burger King Corp. intoduced nationwide in October 1992 but scrapped last spring. The McDLT basket, including fries and cole slaw, sells for $3.89; the chicken fajita basket is $3.59. The cafe also offers other items not found on McDonald's standard menu, including a Chicken Club sandwich and a brownie sundae. There is no drive-through service.

In 1990, McDonald's opened a Golden Arch Cafe in Hartsville, Tenn., a small-scale unit modeled after a 1950s diner. Sales were disappointing, and the cafe closed a year and a half later.

In 1991, the burger chain opened two more cafes, in Tennessee and Maine, that were half the size of a typical McDonald's. The cafes were designed to generate business in small markets.

But the Raleigh cafe, the experiment of franchisee Carol Martin, is a full-size restaurant in a large community. The expanded menu and table service mark a sharp departure from the current price-driven environment in fast-food.

The absent drive-through window also signals a shift away from McDonald's Corp.'s newly publicized mission to become the "easiest to use" quick service restaurant. In an effort to penetrate new niches, McDonald's is pushing smaller venues in alternative locations.

A Connecticut franchisee said the corporate office is particularly interested in developing the McSnack format, an 800-square-foot, limited-menu restaurant without seating or parking, designed for areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. The original McSnack opened in San Diego in 1983.

The new Raleigh cafe, with its indoor playland, seems to invite customers to sit and eat slowly. The menu includes special items for kids, like grilled cheese and hot dogs. A store employee said the cafe attracts mostly families and does two to three times the business of a standard-size McDonald's.M

Alan Salomon contributed to this story.

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