As one of my longtime favorite companies, it's been interesting to watch the gradual changes at McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) over the past few years. With the options for a quick, reasonably priced meal so plentiful, it's done a good job adapting with healthier menu options, better coffee, and revamped dining rooms. Judging by the four-fold increase in its stock price since the bottom in March 2003, it's doing a lot of things right.

According to an Advertising Age article, Mickey D's now wants to "redefine the 'McJob' as the first step on a career path instead of a dead end." Since the stigma against flipping burgers is nothing new, I can only reason the fast food giant is feeling the competitive forces on the labor side of the business just as it has on the customer side.

After all, if you're in need of part-time income, why settle for running the drive-thru when you could make wholesome sandwiches at Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA), serve up seafood at Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFMI), or barista at Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)?

Not only are the aforementioned employers offering more attractive work environments, higher wages, and better benefits, I believe their missions, especially at Whole Foods and Starbucks, to contribute to a better world give them an advantage. It's the mission that generates goodwill by turning a job into a way to make a contribution to society.

Unfortunately, McDonald's is currently focusing on promoting the opportunities available by moving up the corporate ladder. That's fine and good for those seeking that career path. Companies like Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) and Kroger (NYSE:KR) bring their management trainees through all the grunt work to give them thorough, firsthand experience with company operations.

While appealing to part timers' desire to move into rewarding careers is a good idea, I think more could be done. McDonald's may just have to face facts: you can't keep workers around if you aren't paying the wages and benefits that they can earn elsewhere.

But I wouldn't stop there. Ray Kroc defined the Golden Arches brand around quickness, reliability, friendliness, and cleanliness. In an era when Whole Foods and Starbucks bring social responsibility to the forefront of capitalism, I'd like to see McDonald's incorporate this into its brand right alongside Kroc's original mission. That would at least give the order-takers and burger-flippers a corporate mission they can be proud of, and I imagine customers would be "lovin' it," too.

Starbucks and Whole Foods are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations.

While Fool contributor Jason Ramage does not own shares in any companies mentioned here; he regrettably admits to totally missing the boat with that four-fold increase in McDonald's share price. However, it is one of his best Motley Fool CAPS picks, and his rating is 12,443 out of 29,306 rated players.