Fallen Arches —Memories of McDonald’s

I remember my first journey to a McDonald’s in 1961.  We lived in Lanham, Maryland just outside of Washington, D.C.  McDonald’s was new and different then.  It clearly understood why it was in business—to serve the public with great food at a fair price and do it with a smile.  Its squeaky clean red and white tiled walk-up, drive-in restaurants with golden arches in blazing yellow neon were inviting.  The aroma entering the car was too much to resist. 

Our car just kind of turned into McDonald’s on its own.    

As a little boy age 5, going to McDonald’s was always a treat because my folks could only afford so much and McDonald’s happened so seldom.  My father would walk up to the window, order up a bunch of burgers, fries, and shakes—and my sisters and I would enjoy a great meal in the back seat of an dusty, rusty old Chrysler sedan while my dad puffed on a Salem.  McDonald’s was how parents perpetually occupied children in the 1960s.

McDonald’s Founder Ray Crock

When I think of those joyful times some 60 years ago, I have to wonder what happened to the user friendly spirit of McDonald’s.  That spirit is long gone along with its founders—the McDonald brothers and Mr. Ray Crock.  I see McDonald’s as the General Motors of fast food.  If you serve it, they will come—and they do by the millions.  Patrons will line up for what seems like miles like sheep to savor a Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder with cheese, or a thick chocolate shake. 

I sit here in my shabby little office at age 64 and have to wonder why anyone spends their hard-earned money at a McDonald’s.  However, I can sum it up in a few words. 

Too big to care…

Oh sure, McDonald’s and its franchises do a lot for the communities they serve.  Ronald McDonald House?  Speaks for itself.  Serves people—and children—in real trouble.  Will never fault McDonald’s for what it does for local charities and communities.

 

I’m talking good old fashioned service and product.  Customer service.  McDonald’s is a miserable fail.  The news isn’t all bad, however.  I recall a McDonald’s in Evanston, Wyoming years back.  Impeccable service—clearly a franchisee who cared.  It had a clean, well maintained dining area and a Play Place for children.  You could sit there, enjoy a meal and the music, chat—and leave feeling like time and money were well spent.

That McDonald’s experience at 7,000 feet high in the mountains was unusual.  It wasn’t your typical McDonald’s.  On the rare occasion I frequent a McDonald’s—and only when there’s no other choice—I leave feeling screwed.  Enter any McDonald’s and you are greeted with a kiosk that is as complex as a Boeing 747 flight engineer’s panel.  The intent of McDonald’s isn’t service, but to eliminate jobs for young people and to confuse you to a point where you wind up ordering four Big Macs instead of one.  These kiosks try to sideline you into another segment of the menu when all you really want is a burger.  “Fries with that?” as expressed by a computer.  No, just a burger, thank you.  “How about a tasty dessert?”  No thanks…  I have actually become so frustrated with the kiosks that I’ve walked out of McDonald’s in disgust.

Honestly—I’d be thrilled with a smiling face and a friendly attitude. 

That demeanor is gone from the airwaves along with the original Ronald McDonald—our friend Willard Scott who is long retired.     

I see McDonald’s and Burger King in the same light.  Both are really too big to care and have forgotten why they’re in business.  They’re just doing the hustle.  You can shrug this off as just doing business as a fast food chain in a dog-eat-dog industry.  However—In-N-Out Burger, largely in California and the far West, has never forgotten why it is in business and what makes it so successful—service with a smile, quickly, with a great product.  In-N-Out, which has been in business a long time, is passionate about what it does—and it inspires terrific people to do a great job. Pass any In-N-Out Burger and there’s always a line. 

What does that tell you?

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are also a good value for the money.  Their restaurants are clean, food is good, and you are generally greeted with a smile and the kind of respect a loyal patron should receive.  What’s more, you don’t have to ask for condiments like you do at McDonald’s and Burger King.  Few things are more irritating than having to stand in line for ketchup, salt and pepper, or sweetener for your tea after you’ve stood in line for the meal to begin with.  McDonald’s and Burger King, it wouldn’t hurt your profits that much to put your customers first. 

When I reflect back to what McDonald’s was in the 1960s—clean restaurants, great service, and good food—fast—I recall the commercials.  “Grab a bucket and mop!”  “If it’s McDonald’s it’s clean…” and “You deserve a break today…” blew away in the winds of time.  Restrooms are filthy, which is a strange irony for an eating establishment.  Tables are dirty and need a wipe down.  Floors need to be swept.  Trash cans are overflowing.  Leaves you wondering whatever happened to “Grab a bucket and mop…”

Every business, no matter how large, should always look at itself and explore how it can serve its franchisees and customer better.  McDonald’s, focused solely on profits, has lost its way. 

No thanks, I will find somewhere else to dine.     

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