Emulating the McDonalds property model as an investor for upsized returns

The secret to McDonalds' success goes beyond its special sauce, and savvy property owners can learn much from the retail food giants' approach to land usage and maximising rental returns.

McDonalds store
Add some mayo to your properties by maximising your land use - just like this giant food retailer has done. (Image source: Shutterstock.com)

On the surface, you would be forgiven that the world’s largest fast-food chain was built on Big Macs, McFlurries and Happy Meals.

But the McDonald’s menu for success is far bigger than that – Ronald McDonald and the crew have made their wealth in real estate.

It is property investment, not pickles, that helped the company grow its bottom line substantially since the early 1960s.

It’s the perfect example of an organisation following the golden rule of property investing – buying land.

Generally, that land needs something on it to help generate income and in the case of McDonald’s that is restaurants.

Today, the Golden Arches chain has more than 40,000 outlets in 100 or so countries worldwide

McDonald’s owns most of its restaurant properties and leases them back to franchisees. It rakes in billions in rent every year and the properties keep growing in value.

While property investors can’t buy as many assets as McDonald’s, it is still a model that even individual investors can emulate, if on a smaller scale.

The success of McDonald’s real estate strategy comes down to land use.

A typical McDonald’s property consists of 2,000 to 4,000 square metres of land, in a growing area, on a busy main road. This was originally to allow for enough parking when most diners ate inside the restaurant.

The restaurant itself only took up around 500sqm of land. That meant they were using less than 25 per cent of the area of the land (called ‘site cover’).

McDonald’s added drive-throughs in the late 1970s, which required an extra 300sqm around the perimeter of the restaurants – increasing site cover to around 40 per cent – but also delivering a 25 per cent increase in income.

In the 1990s, McDonald’s opened its first McCafe, which required an extra 100 square metres, increasing its site cover to around 50 per cent and increasing total revenue by 50 per cent.

If you’ve been adding up the numbers, a McDonald’s restaurant today takes up roughly 900sqm on a 2,000sqm block of land and has nearly doubled its revenue through the additions of drive-throughs and McCafes.

Upsizing your property

When it comes to investing in real estate the strategy should be no different to that employed by McDonalds.

Buy land in fast growing areas; a growing population supported by plenty of jobs and good existing and future planned infrastructure.

Build a standard three- or four-bedroom home on that land, which works out to be about 180 square metres on a 400sqm block – less than 50 per cent site cover.

In time, adding a granny flat will deliver an extra 100 square metres and increase the rental income generation by 50 per cent.

You can take if further, potentially adding a ‘Fonzie flat’ on top of the garage, which without taking up more land could increase the rental income by another 50 per cent.

The garage presents another opportunity. It could be converted into a self-contained unit or even home office, increasing rental income by another 50 per cent.

All those increases occur before you even factor in that land is a finite resource, so investors who secure land in the right location will get capital growth.

Between 1980 and 2020, the cost per square metre for a block of land in Sydney increased from $63 to $1,280, in Melbourne from $28 to $816, Brisbane from $17 to $604, Perth from $37 to $573 and Adelaide $11 to $395.

Land near our growing capital cities is the best performing asset class in Australia; get the right land and your asset will grow in value.

So why not do what Mickey Ds has done so successfully over the years and supersize your investment portfolio by using the equity you’ve amassed on that first property to buy the next and then the next, and before you know it, you’ll have a Happy Investment Portfolio to go with your Happy Meal.

Article Q&A

Are granny flats a good investment?

In time, adding a granny flat will deliver an extra 100 square metres and increase the property's rental income generation by 50 per cent.

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