LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) is urging U.S. restaurant owners to take the unusual step of opening on Christmas Day to deliver the world's biggest hamburger chain with the gift of higher December sales, AdvertsingAge reported on Monday.
The request - which comes as McDonald's tangles with resurgent rivals such as Wendy's (WEN.O), Burger King BKW.N and Yum Brands' (YUM.N) Taco Bell chain - would be a break from company tradition of closing on major holidays.
"Starting with Thanksgiving, ensure your restaurants are open throughout the holidays," Jim Johannesen, chief operations officer for McDonald's USA, wrote in a November 8 memo to franchisees - one of two obtained by AdvertisingAge.
"Our largest holiday opportunity as a system is Christmas Day. Last year, (company-operated) restaurants that opened on Christmas averaged $5,500 in sales," Johannesen said.
"The decision to open our restaurants on Christmas is in the hands of our owner/operators," McDonald's spokeswoman Heather Oldani told Reuters.
Don Thompson took over as chief executive at McDonald's in July and has the difficult task of growing sales on top of last year's strong results in a significantly more competitive environment.
McDonald's monthly global sales at established restaurants fell for the first time in nine years in October, but unexpectedly rebounded in November.
The November surprise was partly due to a 2.5 percent rise in sales at U.S. restaurants open at least 13 months.
"Our November results were driven, in part, by our Thanksgiving Day performance," Johannesen wrote in a December 12 memo to franchisees.
Oldani said 1,200 more McDonald's restaurants were open on Thanksgiving this year versus last year - not 6,000 more as AdvertisingAge reported.
Still, the company has a high hurdle when it comes to posting an increase in restaurant sales this month because its U.S. same-restaurant sales jumped 9.8 percent in December 2011.
"It's an act of desperation. The franchisees are not happy," said Richard Adams, a former McDonald's franchisee who now advises the chain's owner/operators.
The push to open on the holidays goes against McDonald's cultural history, said Adams. In his first published operations manual, McDonald's Corp founder Ray Kroc said the company would close on Thanksgiving and Christmas to give employees time with their families, Adams said.
"We opened for breakfast on Thanksgiving the last couple years I was a franchisee. It was easy to get kids to work on Thanksgiving because they want to get away from their family, but not on Christmas," Adams said.
Reporting By Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Jim Marshall