Thursday, March 12, 2015

Maybe killing Ronald would help


   Nobody likes to see a business in trouble. Particularly an important American business, headquartered right here in the suburbs of Chicago.
     That said, am I the only person who's enjoying the troubles that McDonald's is having? Its sales continually erode—another 4 percent slide for U.S. restaurants in February, coming on top of a 2014 spent entirely in the red, solid negative growth, no matter how it struggles to retain its fleeing customers.
     Resentment? Sure. McDonald's was—is—the cheerleader for obese America. The drug dealer dangling our fat/sugar fix. The company and I grew large together. I remember when we both were young, and its outlets  were white and red tile. You ate in your car. My mother phoned my father, after Sunday school, to ask if it was okay for us to go: he had condemned the places as "greasy spoons," a lovely old Americanism. 
      He said it was okay, alas. I remember the childish joy of unwrapping the waxy paper around a cheeseburger, a crusty filet-o-fish. The forceful suck it took to draw a swallow of that chocolate-like frozen shake substance up the straw. 
      That it was crap never crossed my mind. Five years later, when I was a fat, bowl-haircut teen, McDonald's had some celebrate-ourselves special where hamburgers were 10 cents apiece, the way they were when the place was founded. Maybe it was their 20th anniversary. I plunked down a dollar and bought ten. I can't recall whether I ate them all—I hope not. But I remember the warm pile of burgers, the sense of endless need being satisfied.
     I'm not blaming McDonald's. But it didn't help.
     It's satisfying to think that the nation took the same route that I did, from yum-yum-eat-'em-up hungry early years to a more controlled maturity. When the boys were small, we'd go to McDonald's--you have to with children, they make your life hell if you don't. But we regarded each visit as a failure of will. And for a period of time, I'd occasionally want one of those cheeseburgers, out of nostalgia, and order one, with black coffee, every year or two.
     But I'd regret it immediately. Now, if I smell the distinctive McDonald's fare stench when I enter a Metra car—somebody's dinner—I'll turn around and go to another car. I watch what I eat, and while McDonald's has salads and such, that's like ordering milk in a bar. Better not to go at all. 
     I'm not sure if the rest of the country is shunning McDonald's due to healthier living. Or maybe they're just tired of it, a collective revulsion after a 50-year burger binge, and we're moving on to equally-revolting food sold by some other company.
     Either way, me, I'm done with McDonald's. I try to imagine what would draw me into one. If I could buy a whole grapefruit for $2 at a McDonald's, I might go, provided it was good grapefruit. If their salads were bigger and more real...no, the problem would be, even if it were a sweet grapefruit or a decent salad, I'd still have to eat them in a McDonald's.  Their employees are the most put-upon, lowest rung of the employment scale, with their brusque mayeyehelpyou mumbles and their baleful, kill-me-now glares. Their restaurants, the worst kind of primary color, easy scrub plastic play pen. Maybe a redesign. Maybe if they dragged Ronald McDonald behind the corporate headquarters and put a bullet behind his ear. I've always hated him. Everyone I know hates him. That might be a start. Kill Ronald, remodel the stores, and pay your knot of crushed down employees a living wage, to make the  experience more like dining out at an actual restaurant and less like something guilt-ridden, furtive, the gastronomical version of buying a pornographic magazine.
     Or maybe the slide is just going to accelerate.

47 comments:

  1. I hope you had as much fun writing this as I did reading it.

    Even as an adult, I went to the places occasionally but stopped years ago when I could no longer get a burger in the morning, at the largest burger chain in the world.

    Doug D.

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  2. I don't think either of my kids ever clamored to go to a McDonalds., As for their drop in business I think there is just more competition. I am guessing that either Wendy's or Burger King is the number 2 burger chain. Now you have places like Panera,Jimmy Johns, Subways etc that are probably taking business away from McDonalds. I wonder if you will hear from McDonalds about your article.

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    1. From what I read in the NYTimes, their recent troubles are more attributable to newer competition from "upscale" burger joints like Five Guys, Smashburger, etc.

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    2. and Chipotle, plus people's tastes have improved

      Mr. S. ,you must have some fear of clowns

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    3. Impossible. It's hard enough to hear from McDonald's if you were writing the "McDonald's Is the Greatest Place in the Word" article. To them, the earth is a blue marble.

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  3. If I get on the metra train, and receive the stench of cheap booze, I turn around myself

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    1. Then how do you get to work in the morning?

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    2. Here's a thought, "Cass," if you smell it in the next car as well, maybe the stench isn't coming from the train car, but from you.

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    3. cass with a small CMarch 12, 2015 at 10:46 AM

      Booze is not my drug

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  4. well said , Mr. S and look at the corp. push to allow that pink slime in there for so many years- now they claim that they will use grass fed beef, too little too late

    I hate corporate smugness

    check out the documentary supersize me-corp. willsay no one forced you in there, same with big tobacco while they were putting addictive products in

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    1. Also look at this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2533353/Forget-Super-Size-Me-Man-loses-37lbs-lowers-cholesterol-eating-McDonalds-three-months.html

      M.S.'s documentary is ridiculous in that he super-sized every single meal he ordered, something atypical of even frequent McDonalds customers, and didn't exercise.

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    2. Actually, he only super-sized the meals when asked if he wanted to do so. For what it's worth.

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    3. Good point and definitely not to McD's credit!

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    4. pink slime? mmmm.
      my favorite is the McRib: http://gothamist.com/2013/11/13/the_disgusting_depressing_truth_beh.php

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  5. Mary Mitchell is a reverse racist and I will write the editors too. No use writing her in email. If she doesn't agree she never answers and prob blocks the email address.

    I like Laura Washingtn better or John.

    So , Janes , who blew the whistle on the Little League rule breakers is bad cause he drinks and chases women? See ST article on Thurs. What does that have to do with things?

    And now some cops in Ferguson were just shot in the face, I guess that should make Jesse happy.

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    1. can't imagine why you're posting as "anonymous."

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  6. For those who like Mr. Steinberg at his most smug, 5%-er, condescending best, this post is a keeper. My favorite part is how the man who mocked the sensitivities of Metra riders who asked for the quiet car goes hunting for a McDonalds scent-free car (otherwise I'd be sympathetic, though I'm more bothered by the people who open up a styrofoam container of Chinese food - takes longer to eat and seems to linger longer).

    For what it's worth, I was at a McDonalds' this morning where the workers are the exact opposite of baleful/moping/etc. Maybe in a town with third world levels of young unemployment (for African-Americans some have estimated 70%) they might not be hoping their customers heed Mr. Steinberg's call to boycott and head off to, I dunno, Pret-A-Mager or Mac Kelly's Greens and Things. (The way to help them is to increase the minimum wage in general (with an eye on what level the raises become counter-productive in terms of lost jobs) and for the upper-middle-class and up to pay more in taxes for social spending - not just the folks with "nine mansions," as Mr. Steinberg singled out in writing about Rauner's draconian budget). It is also worth mentioning that in addition to the poor wages, McDonalds does provide health insurance (not bad, but this was before low-level ACA plans), discounted meals, and other benefits. Anyway, I had an egg mcmuffin and coffee - it's under 30% fat and has lots of protein. The salads are good, not great, but are like twice the size of what you find at the upscale places. And what traveler at some point said a prayer of thanks for their clean public bathrooms?

    McDonalds isn't above criticism by any sense, but I think in general they're a good corporate citizen - if every big company was as responsive to health/public welfare criticism as they are and did as much charity/community work we'd be a lot better off.

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    1. Sorry, correction: I meant to say that the health insurance plans McDonalds offers aren't good.

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  7. I think it wholly depends on where your McDonalds are located, too. You couldn't pay me to go into any of them in the cities or suburbs around Pittsburgh but for a long time my husband and I loved stopping at one on the way to our cabin in northern Michigan. Now we've stopped that habit entirely and take our break at the local brew pub in the same town - but I figured our once a year stops were acceptable. That said, I also don't miss them at all...

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  8. For aficionados of fountain Diet Coke, such as myself, McDonald's has the best, hands down. Doesn't mean I have to eat the food.

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    1. YES! This is a go-to for me. I never ate McDonalds food as a kid - believe it or not, we didn't live anywhere that they had one. I don't eat the food as an adult. But I do buy fountain Diet Cokes, unsweetened iced tea, and coffee, and I appreciate the low prices and quick service on these beverages. And a stop in a clean restroom is also appreciated when one stops in for a beverage.

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  9. I will say one good thing about Ronald McDonald. I've heard from people who needed them that the Ronald McDonald Houses near hospitals are wonderful life-savers for parents/families with sick children.

    The anonymous who says Mary Mitchell is a reverse racist doesn't read all of her columns.

    And why don't people who post as Anonymous at least leave their initials, or any sort of made-up name at the end so we can tell which Anonymouses are which?

    Also, can anyone help me? I have tried to comment here several times before, but always give up, because when I say OPEN ID, and sign Sally W, it says my URL contains illegal characters. How do you do this?

    Sally W

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    1. Sally W,

      What works for me is to select "Name/URL" from the drop-down list, put in whatever name you want and just leave the URL line blank. I, too, wish some of the cranky Anonymice would somehow differentiate themselves for the edification of the comment-reading audience.

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    2. Thanks, Jakash. I think this is working.

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  10. The Daily Show had a great comment about Ronald: He's the only gay man who always wears tasteless clothes.

    I wonder if McD's isn't in trouble because it keeps cluttering up its menu with "healthy" items. Sonic, the Oklahoma-based drive-in chain, eschews that kind of mucking around and concentrates on the burgers, fries and shakes its customers crave. It's been posting great numbers. Maybe it's as true in fast food as it is in politics: Forget the mythical "moderates" and concentrate on pleasing your base.

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    1. Agree with you, Bitter Scribe. I recently read McD's is now market-testing a custom-type option where you can order certain food items "the way you like it". Between that, and the constant changes in menu, they've managed to confuse and frustrate their core base of consumers IMO.

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  11. We also stopped at McDonald's after Sunday school. Luckily I always had a good metabolism. Today, give me an occassional Red Robin burger and I'm happy.

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  12. I love McDonalds

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    1. get a cholesterol test please

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  13. "Maybe if they dragged Ronald McDonald behind the corporate headquarters and put a bullet behind his ear." I don't know if it counts as "LOL", but I chuckled audibly at that...

    As for McDonald's woes, I think a couple of the comments pretty much nail it. Bitter Scribe may be right that it's a bridge too far trying to be all things to all people instead of just flinging burgers at the folks who crave them. And A-n-A, in his opening, non-piss 'n vinegar remark, is correct about all these new burger places cutting into the market share from the burger-craving masses.

    BTW, A-n-A, that egg mcmuffin you enjoy may not be the worst thing in the world, but there are a hell of a lot of better things you could eat for breakfast. A quarter of your saturated fat for the day and 750 mgs. of sodium from a 300-calorie item featuring white bread and no fruit/veg.? Whatevs. I used to love them, on the rare occasions I got one, but they certainly didn't fill me up for the morning. YMMV, and obviously does, of course.

    But, hey, I actually root for the guys, despite seldom going there anymore. If nothing else, A-n-A is right about the bathrooms on a road trip!

    And I used to love the smell of McDonald's food in the morning. Smelled like ... victory. Of marketing over common sense.

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    1. exactly, a &a thinks 30% fat is okay?????

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    2. Yeah, J, I need to cut back on the salt but I'm ok w/o the fruits/veggies until later in the day (I get ravenous at night and figure/hope that as long as I'm gorging on fruit and veggies), but am thinking of adding the yogurt given the recent research on probiotics. (The nighttime gorging is probably why I can get by with the small breakfast). If I opted for the egg white muffin instead it'd be almost the same amount of calories and less cholesterol.

      In Canada there's a whole wheat muffin option for the Egg McMuffin. And this blows my mind: in the US they make em with Canadian bacon, but in Canada you can get them with American bacon. (Half the Canadians I've mentioned this to don't even know we call it "Canadian bacon" - they call it "peameal ham" or somesuch thing.

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    3. Anon 11:03 - the 30% fat guideline is (or at least at one time was) from the American Heart Association, though I've no doubt it's better to be below it. The "egg white delight" is a little over 20%.

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    4. For goodness sake, if you're gonna order an Egg McMuffin, get one with a normal egg. Haven't you heard, eggs with yolks are now back on the "okay-to-eat" list. I myself would rather skip an egg altogether than choke on an egg-white.

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  14. Neil, your mom had to ask your dad permission to stop at Mcd's? He must have been quite a dictator. I don't like Mcd's but don't blame them for your early weight problems.

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    1. You obviously don't remember 1964.

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    2. I was a kid in '64 and remember it and my mom wouldn't have to ask my dad for something like that nor most that I can think of. Maybe Jewish dads are stricter.

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  15. Neil, did you perhaps get so cocky cause you were picked on in school?

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    1. love your columns though, even if I don't always agree, do agree today

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  16. I had a good lunch at a McDonald's once. Somewhere in Germany. A nice bit of sausage washed down with the local Pilsner. However, my companion tried the hamburger and said it was as flavorless as the ones you get on this side of the pond.

    I always thought "Hamburger University" fairly hilarious.

    Also, I agree about the smell. Worse than napalm in the morning.

    Tom Evans

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    1. T.E.,

      Yeah, "Hamburger University" is funny. About the only McDonald's advertising that ever resonated with me was the name of the Hamburglar and an old 60's -era commercial where he was in a boat and the voice-over said "There's trouble afloat." Ah, good times. Fascinating, I realize...

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  17. Now this is too funny: Apparently McDonald's attempt to translate "I'm lovin' it" into Chinese came out as "I like it no matter what you say."

    http://www.salon.com/2015/03/12/mcdonalds_self_hating_complex_why_their_overseas_p_r_campaign_is_the_worst_of_all_time/

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  18. you must not be kosher, Neil , if ate cheese on the burger

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  19. I liovMcDo, as do most of my countrymen, but when you're at the top there's nowhere to go but down. In France McDo is still very profitable, more so than here.

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  20. "You must not be kosher..." one of the joys of the blog is watching the kind of sharp insights that people share. What makes you think I might be? Certainly not careful reading of the column. Most Jews aren't kosher. It isn't quite, "You're black? You must like fried chicken." But it's in the same ballpark.

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  21. Exactly, usually only orthodox Jews are kosher.

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    1. sometimes Conservatives too, rarely Reformed.

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.