This afternoon, I did something I haven’t done in just over 20 years. I went to McDonald’s, and went inside, and sat down and had lunch. I’ve been to McDonald’s in those years, but only to the drive-through, and usually for breakfast. I’ve been through the drive-through for lunch and had double cheeseburgers, the occasional Big Mac, and recently, their fruit salad. But never inside, even just to place an order. So…why is that?
Because from 1986 until early 1993, I was a manager for McDonald’s. It took some years for me to even go through the drive-through, but going inside was not an option. I was afraid it would bring up too many bad memories.
Today, I went for a couple of reasons. First, I had a serious and irrational craving for a Filet-o-Fish sandwich. With extra cheese. (Always order extra cheese, otherwise you only get half a slice. Not that you can really call American cheese actual cheese, but still.) And that craving was not quite so irrational–I saw an ad on TV. It’s on sale for $1.59. And I like them. Yes, I know there are healthier alternatives–grilled fish sandwiches–but I like that little square, battered, fried, fish-like thing. I also had a small fry and a milk. (Hint: Never buy fountain drinks. But I don’t drink soft drinks anyway.)
Then I sat and observed the employees and the customers. I was curious. Who ever goes to McDonald’s anymore, at least inside? Okay, well here’s one: before I ever went inside, there was a woman about my age, parked next to me, apparently cleaning out her SUV. She was wearing sandals, and had on light blue toenail polish. Okay, that’s one.
Inside, just ahead of me in line, was a family (?) which appeared to consist of an overweight white mother, a black teenaged son with dreadlocks, and a younger teenaged daughter with the most enormous breasts I’ve ever seen on an adolescent girl. She was about 4 feet tall, also overweight, wearing a pink tank top, and a bra, thank goodness, with the straps showing on her shoulders. Is this like People of Walmart?
In the employee department, it appears not much had changed. Both the cashiers at the counter were tiny little wispy African-American girls who mostly looked scared to death. Probably due to the McDonald’s motivational method: Smile and be happy and friendly, or we’ll kill you.
There were three managers present, recognizable by their different colored shirts, and everyone in the store was working their asses off. It’s a little iffy to go to any fast food restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, as I did, because quality standards start to slip. But this particular store seems to be hopping at all times. Which was good for me.
I don’t even like French fries, and ordered them only because I wanted some different flavor to munch on besides the fish sandwich. These were perfect. Blazing hot, and perfectly salted. Golden brown, but soft on the inside. That just took me back…I could have hopped over the counter (okay, I couldn’t have hopped), but I could have been right there cooking, salting and bagging those fries like it was yesterday. (Three minutes at 330 degrees!)
I found myself feeling really sorry for the employees, though, especially the managers. They were looking a bit disheveled, and you knew they’d been going like gangbusters for at least 5 or 6 hours already, with miles to go before they sleep.
I will never, ever miss it, but there is still a certain nostalgia there. Stories I remember, and the camaraderie my fellow managers and I felt, as if we were in a combat zone together.
So I’d say the McDonald’s of today is the same as the McDonald’s of 20 years ago, and the McDonald’s of 20 years ago is the same as 20 years before that. The principles are the same. McDonald’s started in the ’50’s, the age of the automobile, when people could travel more than ever. And what people wanted was food that was the same as they could get at home. Americans are more adventurous now. Okay, some Americans.
But that formula works for McDonald’s. The main difference now is better gadgets.