Saturday, October 8, 2011

The McDonald's Effect

As a liberal arts student, I'd come across the McDonald's Effect, often called McDonaldization, several times in my studies, but never was it more apparent to me than during my trip to Paris. For those that don't know, the McDonald's Effect does not refer to an obesity epidemic but instead references McDonald's widespread international success. McDonald's is often studied and referenced as an example of globalization because it adjusts its restaurant establishments according to the customs of the country in which they're operating. These adjustments are in large part, the reason McDonald's has done so well internationally. Most commonly in classes, I'd read about the example of McDonald's in Asia, where it styled its restaurants as more sit-down institutions to accommodate the dining culture in those countries, namely China and Japan. The McDonald's locations in these countries also include several local items, such as a teriyaki burger in Japan, a rice cake burger in Singapore, McAloo tikaa burger in India. The use of local menu items and culturally adjusted service methods results in McDonald's global success.

When I was in Israel, I noticed that McDonald's used a barbeque grill instead of a frier to cook their burger, used only Kosher beef, and operated several Kosher locations. The Israeli locations also sold several unique items such as McShwarma and an Israeli Salad, in addition to a more traditional menu. In Paris however, the McDonald's were incomparable to anything I'd seen before. Every location was fashioned with a sleek glass decor, which is becoming increasingly common among newer US locations, but the inside was remarkably different! Towards the front of each store was a café and patisserie! Each was filled with cases of surprisingly delicious looking macrons, croissants, chocolate croissants, and other pastries. The café menu also consisted of gourmet coffees. Once you walked past the café, one is faced with several machines resembling ATM machines. These machines are actually ordering computers, on which you can make your menu choices, pay, and receive a number to collect your food by. Several of the locations I went inside were two stories and all were filled with modern, clean, trendy furnishings and lots of French people enjoying their food. In fact, the only people I overheard speaking English in the whole restaurant, were those waiting in line for the free restrooms! After mentioning my shock over the classiness of Parisian McDonald's my Australian friend told me that all McDonald's in Australia rely on local and fresh ingredients. She said that when you order an Egg McMuffin for example, signs at the location will declare what farm and where the eggs in that dish are from.

In London, similar to the city's culture itself, the McDonald's locations aren't really sure what type of identity they're trying to convey. They offer more or less the same menu as American locations and about half the locations I've seen have the appearance and atmosphere of a traditional, American fast-food restaurant. The other half, offer an ambiance more similar to the European locations. It is interesting to observe how McDonald's differs country to country, and also what these culinary and atmospheric differences say about the respective cultures. I will definitely make a point to stop by a McDonald's in all of my future travels to observe these differences and use these visits as a framework to help understand the local cultures.

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