For McDonalds Opening on Christmas Day Not Personal, Just Business

When McDonald’s stunned analysts last Monday by posting U.S. sales growth of 2.5% in November after a drop of 2.2% the prior month, one contributor went untouted: The company gained sales by urging franchisees to open on Thanksgiving, a holiday during which many of them traditionally close.

But it’s not stopping with Thanksgiving. According to an internal memo obtained by Ad Age, McDonald’s is pushing franchisees to open on Christmas in a bid to lift December sales.

“Starting with Thanksgiving, ensure your restaurants are open throughout the holidays,” reads the Nov. 8 memo from McDonald’s USA Chief Operating Officer Jim Johannesen. “Our largest holiday opportunity as a system is Christmas Day. Last year, [company-operated] restaurants that opened on Christmas averaged $5,500 in sales.”

While that might not seem like much, consider this: In a second memo, dated Dec. 12, Mr. Johannesen pegged average sales for company-owned restaurants, which compose about 10% of its system, at “more than $6,000” this Thanksgiving. People close to the company said that about 6,000 more locations opened their doors this Thanksgiving than did last year. Presuming their sales were on par with company-owned stores, that’s about $36 million in additional sales.

Should the same amount of franchisees open on Christmas and the day’s take equal that of Thanksgiving, the bump jumps to a total of $72 million for the fourth quarter. If Santa grants corporate’s wish and every store in McDonald’s 14,000-strong U.S. system opens on Christmas, and rings up $6,000 each (a near impossibility), it could line the chain’s stocking on Dec. 25 with a total of $84 million.

But if only a few thousand stores open, it’s still a win, since even a little ho-ho-ho can turn around ho-hum sales. According to people close to the company, franchisees opening on Thanksgiving accounted for almost one percentage point of the company’s 2.5% U.S. same-store sales growth in November.

“Our November results were driven, in part, by our Thanksgiving Day performance,” said Mr. Johannesen in the Dec. 12 memo. “Thanks to proper planning and your great execution, we capitalized on the opportunity to be open while our customers were on the road — and those customers rewarded us.”

McDonald’s spokeswoman Heather Oldani said the company does not comment on leaked documents or information, but added, “However, our restaurants will be open to serve our customers when and how they need over the holidays.”

Opening on holidays didn’t happen much in the company’s Christmases past. Richard Adams, a consultant and former McDonald’s franchisee, said that “Thanksgiving was never open. Then 15 to 16 years ago, some started staying open.” As recently as five or six years ago, “you would never even talk about being open on Christmas, even if some were open on Thanksgiving. For the franchisees, this is a big cultural shift.”

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