Patrons of the McDonald's restaurant on Frederick Road have often complained about how hard it is to find a seat inside, how difficult the drive-through can be and how intimidating it can be in trying to exit onto Catonsville's busy main street.
Franchise owner and operator Jim Bower plans to change all that.
Bower, who commutes to the restaurant from his home in Frederick, plans to renovate multiple facets of the store's property at 501 Frederick Road, next to GL Shack's Grill.
Those plans took a major step forward by gaining approval of a county Design Review Panel Wednesday, March 13, in Towson.
"Over the past few years, I've been getting comments really about three things," Bower said.
He listed requests for more seating, a quicker and more efficient drive-through, and an exit from the store parking lot onto Delrey Avenue.
Bower's plans address those requests by renovating and expanding the restaurant to include an additional 25 seats, adding a third window to the drive-through and creating a second exit from the parking lot onto Delrey Avenue.
Additionally, Bower will add new patio seating in front of the store and on the right side of the parking lot.
The issue of seating availability is not just during the normal lunchtime rush on the weekend. Last Wednesday at 11:15 a.m., for example, nearly every seat in the restaurant was full.
There was also a line of five or six cars idling in the drive-through.
"The customers would love to get more seating in there," Bower said. "The restaurant is really more like a community restaurant."
Bower said that community feeling, and the free Wi-Fi offered there, keeps seats filled throughout most of the day.
He plans to section part of the new seating to accommodate people using the Wi-Fi to work and those using the restaurant to congregate.
"It creates a comfortable environment where you have areas where you have some privacy," Bower said.
"So it cuts out little areas where someone that might be working on a project could be quiet and you have one area where people can talk," he said.
The renovations also include a second menu board and stand in the drive-through, allowing multiple cars to place orders at the same time.
"At our drive-through right now, you have one spot where you give your order and you move along," Bower said. "These plans actually allow us to have a second spot."
The new drive-through will also feature a third window where customers with large or special orders can wait to pick up their food without holding up the line behind them. It also provides an area where a store employee can bring their order out to them.
"It's just another way to make it more convenient for the customer, to make it easier to use the drive-through and to be able to head back out to wherever you're going, to work or school," Bower said.
An exit onto Delrey Avenue, in addition to the one currently located on Frederick Road, will produce a better traffic flow through the small parking lot.
With the current entrance and exits both along Catonsville's busy thoroughfare, it can be difficult to get in and out of the parking lot.
"If you could exit onto Delrey and hit the traffic light, you could head back to Catonsville very easily or head back to the highway very easily," Bower said.
The only recommendation made at the Design Review Panel was to enclose the store-front seating behind a wall as extra separation from Frederick Road.
"Otherwise, it was nothing major or anything like that," Bower said.
He said he will meet with the Paradise Community Association in April to share the plans and, once awarded permits in the coming months, begin construction.
Bower owns another McDonald's franchise on Wilkens Avenue and said the great success remodeling that building one and a half years ago has raised his anticipation for the upcoming transformation in Catonsville.
"Catonsville has the best community in the world," Bower said.
"We're here to help the community," he said.