McDouble: The One-Slice Secret to Survival

"I think customers right now, they're struggling to make ends meet, jobs are being terminated," Fields said. "At McDonald's I think it's a place to go and actually enjoy themselves and have food at a great price. And then have a great experience -- which is something that is important right now."

She isn't the only one who cares about what the customer wants.

"I think what we do and what we do well is we listen to our customers," said Kilian, "find out what they want, and then we try to give it to them."

"First and foremost, McDonalds is laser light focused on their customers," said Watson.

'We Have to Work Harder'

If focus on the customer seems a bit robotic, it's meant to. These are the lessons taught at McDonald's world headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., at the famously named Hamburger University.

At the university, the company implements its so-called "plan to win," a roadmap to bring McDonald's out of the dark days of early this decade when it was losing money, in part due to fierce criticism for the nutritional value of its food.

In response, it put new, healthier items on the menu, which some customers seem to like. It rebuilt restaurants, giving them more modern looks. And it got into the "premium roast coffee" business more than three years ago.

Whatever it might gain by listening to its customers, it is hard to imagine anything comparing to one of McDonald's most central features -- it is cheap.

One customer named Melissa who was buying lunch at the West Bend McDonald's became unemployed recently.

"We spend a lot of time at McDonald's when we go out to eat," she said. "But we've cut down on a lot of expenses that we would normally do."

When asked if the recession was good for McDonald's, Fields said, "We fare better in the recession maybe than some others do. But we're as concerned as anyone else. We have to work harder."

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