The equipment is part of a new play area Ruby installed last summer that is designed to encourage young customers to exercise more. Called the R-Gym—after Ronald McDonald—the gym replaces a more passive PlayPlace activity center.
Ruby, who owns 11 McDonald’s in Southern California, said customer response has been so favorable that he is already planning to install a second R-Gym in a restaurant he is remodeling.
“We’re getting kids to play in a way that is good for them,” he said.
Ruby is one of the burger giant’s first franchisees to build an R-Gym, and more are expected to follow. Danya Proud, a spokes-woman for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp. , said the gyms are still considered to be in a test phase, but the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
The company calls the gyms a “refreshed” version of its PlayPlace, which was introduced in 1971 and can now be found in about 5,500 of its 13,700 U.S. locations.
The R-Gym activities are designed to promote physical coordination, strength and aerobic conditioning. Equipment includes stationary bikes that power video games, monkey bars, an obstacle course, dance pads and basketball hoops. The R-Gyms are aimed at children ages 4 to 12, and there are separate zones for toddlers, younger children and older kids. There is also a “Parent Zone” with seats.
The first R-Gym opened last March in Tulsa, Okla. There are now eight nationwide. Ruby’s was the first in California, where some 20 are expected to debut by next summer.
The gyms come as critics accuse the fast-food industry of contributing to the dramatic rise in childhood obesity cases in the United States. McDonald’s Proud countered that McDonald’s has been taking an active approach by adding more healthful menu options. The company has expanded its food offerings with new salads, yogurt parfaits and beverages like bottled water. Customers now can substitute sliced apples for French fries, and low-fat milk or orange juice for soda in Happy Meals.
Not just child’s play: McD’s R-Gym increases guest traffic and physical activity among kids
The gyms are a “response to customers’ changing lifestyles,” Proud said.
Milton Stokes, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, calls the gyms a move in the right direction, but not enough to address health concerns about fast-food consumption. “You are going there for a burger and fries. You are not going there to burn calories and eat an apple,” he said. “However, I do appreciate what McDonald’s is trying to do.”
Ruby declined to say how much he spent on the gym, but allowed that he is pleased with his decision to build it. The gym is drawing curious customers and provides a competitive edge in a crowded market, Ruby said. Moreover, Happy Meal sales are up.
“It is unique and exciting and compelling to kids,” he said. “We are obviously bringing in more kids than we were before.” So far, the bikes are the most popular, with the basketball hoop coming in second.
Giving kids a place for active play may encourage them to be more active elsewhere, said Ruby, who has four children. “As a parent, in addition to being an owner/operator, I really like this development.”