McDonald’s: America in restaurant form. Is it any wonder that this fast-food giant has survived recessions, expansion, inflation, regulation, lawsuits, calorie counters, and even public education as to how terrible it is for us? No, not when we take into account just how integral fast food has become to American society, and how strong a fight McDonald’s puts up to keep its relationship with us going. In his book, Born a Crime, Trevor Noah offers a perfect summation of the golden arches and just how far their power reaches: “McDonald’s is America. You see it advertised and it looks amazing. You crave it. You buy it. You take your first bite, and it blows your mind. It’s even better than you imagined. Then, halfway through, you realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. A few bites later you’re like, Hmm, there’s a lot wrong with this. Then you’re done, you miss it like crazy, and you go back for more.” (189)
This description not only astutely covers our wide array of feelings towards the questionable thought of McDonald’s food being actual food, but also illustrates the impact Mickey D’s has had on the world. Noah writes from an outsider’s standpoint, having only gotten McDonald’s in his home country of South Africa when he was old enough to use his own money to purchase the meals. Most of us who have been lured by the pull of a Happy Meal toy since childhood fail to recognize how McDonalds represents the United States across the planet, in many ways being, “a beloved American institution that appeals overseas to millions who admire our way of life.” (Schlosser, 22)
Indeed, McDonald’s has become an inescapable facet of American reality. It is commonplace to eat fast food multiple times a week, and our dedication to such sustenance cannot be denied: “On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant.” (Schlosser, 7) We spend billions of dollars at these places, particularly Mickey D’s. This tasty tycoon of debatably-meat sandwiches has become a staple of our society, hiring, “about one million people” annually, to the point where, “an estimated one out of every eight workers… has at some point been employed by McDonald’s,” and subsequent to their growing size they have become, “the nation’s largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes,” (Schlosser, 9).
So just how did McDonald’s reach these incredible heights? The gargantuan achievements have been due, in part, to their utmost dedication to promotion. Schlosser, in 2000, wrote, “McDonald’s spends more money on advertising and marketing than any other brand.” (9) Adding to that, despite the recession in 2008 and 2009, McDonald’s, “did not decline throughout the downturn” partly because it, “ramped up spending on advertising by more than 7%” (“Good and Hungry”) even as competitors lowered such investments in 2008. McDonald’s even goes to extreme lengths to make sure that their soft drink partner, Coca-Cola, tastes better at their restaurants than at rival establishments: the drink is transported, “in stainless steel containers,” (Harvey-Jenner, 4) instead of plastic bags. It’s also kept to strict standards of temperature and water filtration to ensure the coldest and best experience for consumers, and these tactics don’t stop at the beverages. McDonald’s makes every effort to let us know that their food is going to astound our taste buds as well as be kind to our wallets, or as Schlosser puts it: “That is one of the main reasons people buy fast food; it has been carefully designed to taste good. It’s also inexpensive and convenient.” (21)
Our love of this fast-food giant, however, has been shaky in recent years. New competition such as Panera Bread or Noodles & Company offer plates that are low-cost as well as farm-fresh. McDonald’s and similar companies such as Burger King and Wendy’s have faced scrutiny regarding high amounts of fat and questionable practices of meat production which leads to their food. The vast wealth of information concerning the damage fast food does to our bodies and environment has been made available to us at any time thanks to our numerous devices, and, coupled with society’s affinity for active wear with healthy, organic habits to match, as a nation we’ve begun to narrow our eyes in the direction of what we’re being offered by these fast food moguls.
So what are these establishments to do to succeed? In this smart-phone oriented society, it is becoming more and more apparent that companies need to adapt to the onslaught of technological advances just to survive. Fast food companies are no exception, and with the way they are viewed concerning issues with nutrition, pricing, production, wages, environmental effects, and calorie count, they would be wise to take advantage of a population obsessed with staring at the screens in their palms. The nation’s goals for fitness have created an entirely new realm of products, particularly ones that sync up with their phones such as the Fitbit. After the health-reform bill passed in 2010, which required chains to disclose and show calories on menu items, consumers changed their eating habits in accordance with the information displayed. The Economist referenced a study done by the National Bureau of Economic research, surmising that after customers were more aware of calorie counts in competing coffee giants, the company with the lower calories won out, suggesting: “menu-labeling could favor chains that have more nutritious offerings.” (“Good and Hungry”) With an economy that pushes consumers to always seek out the best and most affordable deal, companies would be wise to not undercut their profits by lowering prices so much as to look at all the needs of consumers together, making information readily available for the consumer, and adapting to their reaction. Why not create an app for their company which not only provides advertising and evidence as to their dedication to resolving issues which plague the fast-food industry, but also one that rewards consumers for involving that company in their quest for a healthier lifestyle? Rewards programs commonly work by providing a free item or meal to customers who reach a certain amount of points, dollars spent, or number of trips to an establishment – but what if instead, fast-food chains rewarded people for making healthier choices? An app that helped customers count calories, while providing healthy suggestions, combined with discounts for using the app, meeting a calorie count or steps taken goal, would be enticing to the consumer who both wants to lose ten pounds but also craves a Big Mac. It would also provide an advertising opportunity for the company which created it, providing said company the ability to promote their new ecologically-friendly packaging, locally-sourced produce, or other efforts it may be making to improve its image.
McDonald’s already jumped on the smartphone bandwagon with their app release back in 2015. It offers a range of information, from where to find drive-thrus and Play Places to, “which locations have free Wifi” (Pope) It also offers free or discounted food to its subscribers, ensuring that they keep coming back for more of the what the golden arches has to offer. However, a free sandwich may not be enough to keep up with an enormous pivot in the priorities of a society that wants to be healthy. If McDonald’s and other fast food places want to cling steadfast to the hold they have on us, they must embrace the change they face. It is not improbable to predict cooperation between restaurants like McDonald’s and wearable devices like the Fitbit, given both companies’ affinity for dominating their respective markets through advertising. Research analyst Jitesh Ubrani details Fitbit’s success through, “spreading awareness and targeting the growing segment of fitness trackers,” and says that their, “partnerships with fitness and health focused companies… have been key in maintaining their lead.” (Silbert) What is to stop them from extending that reach to the fast food places we make such a large part of our lives?
Imagine selecting a meal that you crave from a McDonald’s menu, and then being given a set list of workout routines or number of steps you could perform in order to justify the calorie count of said meal. Or, imagine the opposite: after completing a certain amount of steps, a message pops up on your fitness tracker telling you that you’ve earned a double cheeseburger! It’s like having your cake and eating it too, only the ‘cake’ is your workout goal and ‘eating it too’ involves a quarter pounder and some fries.
Perhaps we have a while before fitness trackers readily accept fast food as their friends, but McDonald’s has already begun to combat their negatively un-fit image in other ways, by changing their very nature in countries outside the U.S. In Australia, it might not even be fair to categorize McDonald’s as fast food at all. Restaurants down under offer customers, “bars of fresh food where you can watch your order being prepared,” and orders are, “delivered to the customer’s table by a server.” (Peterson) They also offer almost 20 addable ingredients to burgers which look more like they were freshly shaped by your great Aunt Sally than the flattened pieces of meat product which have been recently zapped into being in an old microwave like we’re used to. These efforts have helped turn around sluggish sales, and it might not be long before we see more implements of the, “Create Your Taste” program wheeled out in McDonald’s in the states.
All things considered, as the consumers who have created the monster that is McDonald’s, we must accept the fact that it is here to stay. No matter the obstacle, this food giant is finding ways to adapt to what we profess our needs to be, and it won’t loosen its grip on us anytime soon. Its competitors would be smart to employ similar strategies in their development if they want to stay afloat in the face of Mickey D’s. There is no way to know the future of food for certain, tech-based or otherwise, but rest assured the golden arches will, like the yellow brick road, be leading the way there.
This was originally written in March 2017 for an English class taught by Professor Pulju at Montgomery College.
Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Spiegel & Grau, 2016.
Schlosser, Eric. “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal.” The New York Times on the Web, 2000, www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/schlosser-fast.html. Accessed 15 Feb 2017.
“Good and Hungry: The changes facing fast food.” The Economist. Web. 16 Feb 2017.
Harvey-Jenner, Catriona. “This Is Why the Coke at McDonald’s Tastes So Much Better Than At Other Fast Food Restaurants.” Delish, 24 Feb 2017, www.delish.com/food-news/a51717/coca-cola-mcdonalds-tastes-better/?src=socialflowFB. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
Silbert, Sarah. “Why Fitbit is Still Winning Wearables.” Wearables.com, 10 Dec 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/12/10/why-fitbit-winning/. Accessed 16 Feb 2017.
Pope, Kristin. “Use This New App From McDonald’s to Get Free Food and Other Deals.” The Penny Hoarder, 28 Aug 2015, www.thepennyhoarder.com/smart-money/mcdonalds-app/. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.
Peterson, Hayley. “McDonald’s Australia reveals how America is doing it all wrong.” Business Insider, 6 May 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/mcdonalds-in-australia-vs-america-2015-5. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.