McMansion ad campaign aimed at McDonald’s

Burger King has a new advertising campaign that shows off one particular feature of the purported McMansion backyards of McDonald’s executives:

Each of the company’s newest print ads, designed by an agency called DAVID Miami, claims to show what was once the lavish backyard of a real McDonald’s executive, the kicker being that each yard also appears to contain a grill.

“Flame grilling is hard to resist,” read the words printed over each grilling apparatus, the suggestion being that McDonald’s executives themselves preferred a flame-grilled patty…

AdAge reports that some of the photos were taken from real estate listings, meaning these particular grills may not have necessarily belonged to the “retired McDonald’s director” or “retired McDonald’s president” who may have used those backyards.

The primary emphasis is on the grill, a staple of many an American backyard. American homes and summer has long been associated with a male homeowner taking raw meat to the backyard and cooking it on the grill as the family plays and gathers around.

Of course, these are not just any grills or any homes. The news story includes three ad images. The grills look rather long – so they likely have more than four burners – and they have a stainless steel exterior. (In one image, there appears to be a Green Egg next to the stainless steel grill.) Given that these are grills supposedly owned by executives plus they are located at large homes, these are likely expensive grills.

Beyond tying McDonald’s executives to expensive grills, this also connects them to undesirable homes: McMansions. While the purpose of the ads is the grills, these grills are in front of expensive and large homes. But, they are not just mansions – they are McMansions. I’m not sure if there is a larger message here or not: should McDonald’s feel shame about having derided homes named after their restaurants (the Mc- prefix)? (Compared to the fast food of Burger King, this seems like a better pitch for places like Five Guys or Smashburger that would claim to have a more premium burger.) Does this suggest their executives have bad taste? Does this mean Burger King executives have nicer homes?

 

Fast food restaurants move from one-size-fits-all architecture to “curated” design

Americans often can recognize a McDonald’s or Taco Bell anywhere in the country with their familiar architecture. This may be changing:

“What is different now from what we used to do is we are breaking away from a one-size-fits-all model and going to more flexibility, more variations, to end up with a more curated approach,” says Deborah Brand, Taco Bell’s vice president of development and design. Taco Bell has spent the past two years rethinking its restaurant design, and Taco Bell Cantina is just one result. “I think it’s a different approach to value,” Brand says. “We’ve always known that we have inexpensive food that is craveable, but we also look at value as serving the same food at the same price point in a potentially much more elevated dining environment.”…

Many other fast-food chains—“quick-service restaurants,” or QSR, in industry parlance—are doing the same. Restaurants from McDonald’s to KFC to Starbucks are rethinking their spaces inside and out, in a wave of design interventions that, given the sheer number of these restaurants, will spread throughout the U.S. These designs are setting a new standard for the commercial landscape, guiding the look and feel of the stores and restaurants on our streets and in our daily routines….

A quirk of designing for chains with thousands of restaurants and global marketing campaigns means that the design of the physical spaces often has to align with the image of the restaurant being portrayed in advertisements. In recent years, the KFC brand has built its advertising campaigns around an updated interpretation of the chain’s white-haired founder and human mascot, the long-deceased Colonel Harland Sanders, playing on his Southern gentleman character, while also making him, and the restaurant he represents, a little feisty. McCauley and FRCH were tasked with redesigning the restaurants to reflect this new attitude…

Today, in the era of the Taco Bell Cantina, the chain has diversified its approach to design, shifting far away from this signature building style. But branding through architecture is still a strategy used by some fast-food chains. Take the white castle-shaped buildings of the White Castle brand, for instance, or the sloping, hat-shaped red roof of the Pizza Hut chain. In its early years, McDonald’s required that its franchised restaurants use the famed “golden arches,” two parabola-shaped yellow bands on each end of the building that became a form of physical advertising. Now, for reasons such as cost and flexibility, brands are putting less emphasis on highly defined ornamental architecture and paying more attention to the experience of the customer, both in the drive-thru and inside the building.

This has the potential to both make the structures more attractive to certain demographics – and it sounds like the young adult consumer is in the crosshairs – while disrupting a common experience across locations. Are smaller branding elements like logos enough to carry the architecture if it varies quite a bit across locations? Might this chase away older consumers who are used to a particular aesthetic?

Another thought: some of this change may be in response to local guidelines where communities are more resistant to typical fast food restaurants which are viewed as lower-class. There are plenty of McDonald’s and other fast food locations that adhere to local design standards to fit in with the streetscape. Imagine you are a big city and McDonald’s wants to open a new location: would you prefer a standard looking restaurant or something unique that does not immediately scream McDonald’s?

Suburban settings and McDonald’s filmed in Georgia

The new film The Founder tells of the founding of McDonald’s and involves a number of suburban sites – that were all recreated in Georgia:

Because of their limited budget and ultrafast 34-day shooting schedule, the filmmakers had to be resourceful in showing McDonald’s restaurants all over the United States, without actually leaving Georgia.

So, they repurposed their “Des Plaines” building.

“When you see Schaumburg, when you see Minneapolis, when you see all the McDonald’s from around the country, those are subtle reworkings of only one set,” Corenblith said.

“Just by changing the parking lot stripes configuration, it was a very subtle way to tell the audience that, no, this isn’t the place you just saw because the cars are now parked perpendicularly and not diagonally or parallel.”

Corenblith’s eye for authentic detail fooled even Keaton. He assumed the crew had found an old McDonald’s restaurant and rehabbed it for the film shoot.

The magic of Hollywood…or the similarities in suburban settings?

This movie may be worth seeing just to consider the American suburban lifestyle. Would McDonald’s and other fast food companies exist without it? Fast food takes perfect advantage of a number of factors: suburbanites need to/want to drive, all that driving means it would be convenient to eat along the way, fast food restaurants are often located at busy intersections or along busy roads, the dining experience is standardized, and the reasonable prices appeal to the middle class. No suburbs, likely no McDonald’s or a very different kind of McDonald’s.

How long should customers be able to stay at a McDonald’s?

McDonald’s has been part of some recent controversy over how long customers should be able to stay:

In the past month, those tensions came to a boil in New York City. When management at a McDonald’s in Flushing, Queens, called the police on a group of older Koreans, prompting outrage at the company’s perceived rudeness, calls for a worldwide boycott and a truce mediated by a local politician, it became a famous case of a struggle that happens daily at McDonald’s outlets in the city and beyond…

McDonald’s is not alone in navigating this tricky territory. Last year, a group of deaf patrons sued Starbucks after a store on Astor Place in Lower Manhattan forbade their meet-up group to convene there, complaining they did not buy enough coffee. Spending the day nursing a latte is behavior reinforced by franchises like Starbucks and others that seem to actively cultivate it, offering free Wi-Fi that encourages customers to park themselves and their laptops for hours…

“As long as there have been cities, these are the kind of places people have met in,” said Don Mitchell, a professor of urban geography at Syracuse University and the author of “The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space.”…

But the leisurely cafe culture and the business plan behind fast food are in opposition. Although signs hang in many McDonald’s stores instructing customers to spend half an hour or less at the tables, Ms. McComb said there was no national policy about discouraging longtime sitting. “The individual franchisees do what they feel is best for their community businesses,” she said. “In the case of Flushing, that franchisee welcomed those guests for years, and it was only when other customers felt they were no longer welcome that he attempted to adjust the visit time with the customers.”

Are these businesses solely for profit or do they also function as social spaces? Clearly the latter is true to some degree, particularly in a country that tends to lack many public spaces or a culture of cafes and pubs. When there are few other places to go, particularly for the economically disadvantaged who have less ability to carve out private spaces (whether big houses or their own cars), why not make a McDonald’s or a Starbucks into a third place between home and work? Going even further, could it be that McDonald’s is one of the few public places that will take you in if you have little?

The “most beautiful” McDonald’s in the US isn’t really in a McMansion

I’ve seen several references to this story about the Long Island McDonald’s that is in a 1795 house. A few details about the location:

Known as the Denton House, its bones date back to 1795, when it was constructed as a farm house by one Joseph Denton, a descendent of the founder of the village of Hempstead. In 1860, it was given a Georgian makeover, complete with gingerbread ornamentation, and throughout the 1900?s, found commercial use as a funeral home and a series of restaurants.

By 1986, it was abandoned and on the verge of falling down.

McDonalds purchased the property with the intention of tearing it down and replacing it with a standard McDonald’s restaurant. Thank God for the citizens of the New Hyde Park, who worked to secure landmark status for the building in 1987.

McDonald’s had no choice but to restore the property and work within the parameters of the landmarks commission, which ultimately resulted in their most beautiful restaurant in America (if you know of a better example, please let me know).

This is interesting in itself. However, I was also intrigued by another link to the original story that dubbed this Long Island McDonald’s the “McMansion of the Day.” Perhaps this is simply a play on words: it is a McDonald’s in a mansion so it cleverly could be called a McMansion. It wouldn’t be the first McDonald’s to earn the term; an Arkansas McDonald’s was also dubbed a McMansion.

But, perhaps this is an intentional use of the word McMansion with the typical meaning of a new, large, ugly house in the midst of suburban sprawl. If so, this is the wrong use. Yes, this particular McDonald’s is in the middle of suburban strip malls. However, this is truly a historic house, one that acquired landmark status. McDonald’s renovated the interior for their purposes but it still retains the appearance of an older mansion. People may not like that McDonald’s was able to do this to an older home but it is not really a McMansion in the typical understanding: it is not a new building, it was not originally mass produced (and McDonald’s changes probably weren’t mass reproduced in their other restaurants), and it doesn’t look ugly as the McDonald’s sign above the front door is pretty understated.

The world of McDonalds, McQuarks, and McMansions

Wired has a few recent pieces that are related to McMansions. First, an “Alt Text” piece parodies other “theoretical particles” that might follow the recent Higgs-Boson news:

McQuark

This subatomic particle is found in all McDonald’s food, and is the reason that all the menu offerings — including the burgers, shakes and dipping sauces — taste “McDonaldy,” as if they were all just carved out of a big lump of McSubstance. Currently, the McQuark is the universe’s only trademarked subatomic particle, although Motorola, maker of the Photon smartphone, is attempting to gain traction against Apple’s battery of lawsuits by patenting actual photons.

Wired‘s Matt Simon follows up and defines McMansions:

The most widely used of these pejoratives is McMansions. These are the quickly produced cookie-cutter homes that some say lack taste.

It would be interesting to hear more from McDonald’s about how they feel about the expanding usage of such terms, particularly McMansion. According to Wikipedia, McDonalds was not too happy about the term “McJobs”:

The term “McJob” was added to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2003, over the objections of McDonald’s. In an open letter to Merriam-Webster, Cantalupo denounced the definition as a “slap in the face” to all restaurant employees, and stated that “a more appropriate definition of a ‘McJob’ might be ‘teaches responsibility.'” Merriam-Webster responded that “[they stood] by the accuracy and appropriateness of [their] definition.”

On 20 March 2007, the BBC reported that the UK arm of McDonald’s planned a public petition to have the OED’s definition of “McJob” changed. Lorraine Homer from McDonald’s stated that the company feels the definition is “out of date and inaccurate”. McDonald’s UK CEO, Peter Beresford, described the term as “demeaning to the hard work and dedication displayed by the 67,000 McDonald’s employees throughout the UK”. The company would prefer the definition to be rewritten to “reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding … and offers skills that last a lifetime.”…

According to Jim Cantalupo, former CEO of McDonald’s, the perception of fast-food work being boring and mindless is inaccurate, and over 1,000 of the men and women who now own McDonald’s franchises began behind the counter.Because McDonald’s has over 400,000 employees and high turnover, Cantalupo’s contention has been criticized as being invalid, working to highlight the exception rather than the rule.

In 2006, McDonald’s undertook an advertising campaign in the United Kingdom to challenge the perceptions of the McJob. The campaign, developed by Barkers Advertising and supported by research conducted by Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London, highlighted the benefits of working for the organization, stating that they were “Not bad for a McJob”. So confident were McDonald’s of their claims that they ran the campaign on the giant screens of London’s Piccadilly Circus.

Instead of trying to change or block the definition, why doesn’t McDonald’s try to introduce its version of a “Mc-” term that it can then work to define? Of course, such things can be quickly turned around on the Internet but McDonald’s has plenty of resources and reach. I’m sure they could develop a positive version and there are still plenty of people going to their restaurants…

Naperville cites traffic concerns and proximity to a residential area in rejecting McDonald’s near downtown

Naperville’s City Council voted Tuesday against a proposal from McDonald’s to build a restaurant just south of downtown. The cited reasons: traffic and proximity to a residential area.

The City Council unanimously turned down the proposed fast-food restaurant at the southeast corner of Washington Street and Hillside Road citing concerns about traffic at an already busy intersection and locating a 24-hour business close to homes…

The proposal was backed by both city staff and the plan commission. However, in a discussion that lasted more than an hour, councilmen focused on the potential for traffic tie-ups…Addressing the myriad of traffic concerns, William Grieve, a traffic engineer hired by McDonald’s, said a traffic study showed travel time through the intersection would only increase by about a second and double drive-through lanes would prevent backups.  Stillwell said the company would be diligent about addressing any problems if they arise…

But traffic wasn’t the only concern. Neighbors said they feared there would be increased noise and lights coming from the restaurant if it was allowed to stay open 24 hours as proposed.

Both Judy Brodhead and Joe McElroywere among the councilmen who agreed and said having a restaurant open 24 hours so close to homes was a deal-breaker regardless of the traffic issues.

I’m not surprised by this result: not too many residents would willingly choose to have a McDonald’s nearby and few people want more traffic. However, this seems a bit strange for a few reasons:

1. Washington is already a fairly busy road.

2. This intersection is near homes but there are already strip mall type establishments at this corner. In fact, I’m not sure there any homes that back up directly to this site as the DuPage River is to the east and all of the corners at the intersection are already occupied. The McDonald’s would replace a Citgo gas station, not exactly a paragon of civic architecture. Across the street is a Brown’s Chicken establishment. The other two corners include a cemetery and another strip mall type establishment.

3. The traffic study from McDonald’s seems to suggest there wouldn’t be any issues.

4. I wondered if this had anything to do with protecting the downtown but it is three blocks south of the downtown so it shouldn’t contribute to congestion problems there.

I wonder if there isn’t more to this story. Indeed, here are a few more details from the Daily Herald:

Council members admitted they were initially thrilled that McDonald’s wanted to open a downtown store on the southeast corner of Hillside and Washington streets. But when it came down to a plan that included five zoning variances, three landscape variances and a sign variance, they just weren’t lovin’ it.

So the McDonald’s required too many deviations from Naperville’s guidelines? While the restaurant might have needed 9 variances, the city could have made it happen if they really wanted to. Just how much did the pressure from the neighborhood matter?

An Arkansas McDonalds that looks like a McMansion

The term McMansion is tied to the company McDonald’s: the homes are said to have a standardized look and are mass produced. Even though McDonald’s locations don’t usually look like McMansions, a new location in Little Rock, Arkansas combines the two:

The Promenade at Chenal announces the groundbreaking ceremony for the new McDonald’s to be held Tuesday, February 21 at 3:00 PM. This new addition to The Promenade at Chenal marks the first Pad Lot construction since the Shopping Center opened in 2008 as well as the first fast food restaurant for the Chenal Valley area of west Little Rock. Furthermore, this McDonald’s will be one of the first in the state to showcase the new, sleek modernized décor with wooden and graphic vinyl textured walls outlining seating zones designed to appease any customer from the casual visitor to the grab and go. “It promises to be the nicest designed McDonald’s in the State.” — Michael Todd, Vice President Salter Construction, Inc.

See the picture with the story to get a taste of what a McDonald’s McMansion could look like. Here is some commentary about the design:

The picture above is actually Ronald’s place in Independence, Ohio, but in the land of McMansions out in West Little Rock, what will a McDonald’s have to look like to impress? (then again, times are tough, maybe even for the purse-dog crowd) Most importantly: Will those chicken McNuggets taste better under a crystal chandelier than they do under a buzzing tube light? Stay tuned, foodies.

At first glance, this looks most like a bank to me with its columns, brick exterior, and plenty of windows in the front. How much more profitable would the “nicest designed McDonald’s in the State” be?

Despite the criticism of McMansions, I don’t feel like I have seen much criticism of the design of McDonald’s restaurants themselves. After upgrades at many locations in recent years, some McDonalds have upgraded from more tacky seating and a cheaper look to rivaling Starbucks and Panera. Compared to other fast food restaurants, are McDonalds exteriors and interiors better or worse than the competition? On the whole, I would say they are nicer than the average Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, and Burger King.

The sociological origin of the term “McJob”

With McDonald’s hiring 62,000 employees on April 19, a journalist looks at the sociological origins of the term “McJobs“:

The term McJob first appeared in the summer of 1986, when George Washington University sociology professor Amitai Etzioni wrote a column for the Washington Post decrying the “highly routinized” jobs at fast-food restaurants and their effect on American teens.

“By nature, these jobs undermine school attendance and involvement, impart few skills that will be useful in later life, and simultaneously skew the values of teenagers -especially their ideas about the worth of a dollar,” Etzioni wrote.

He went on to criticize the culture and routine of working at McDonald’s and other fast-food companies, noting that the jobs do not provide opportunity for entrepreneurship like the traditional lemonade stand, or the lessons of self-organization, self-discipline and self-reliance like the traditional paper route.

“True, you still have to have the gumption to get yourself over to the hamburger stand, but once you don the prescribed uniform, your task is spelled out in minute detail,” he argued. “There is no room for initiative creativity or even elementary rearrangements. These are breeding grounds for robots working for yesterday’s assembly lines, not tomorrow’s high-tech posts.”

The article then goes on to describe how McDonald’s has tried to fit back against the term, including a 2007 from “the British arm of the company…to get the Oxford English Dictionary definition changed.”

On one hand, such jobs may not be great and this is what Etzioni was getting at: they generally are low-paying and in many places don’t pay enough to be considered a “living wage.” A work like Nickel and Dimed (a review of the theater version here) portrayed such employees as having difficult lifestyles and little hope for the future. More broadly, we could think of these jobs as emblematic of a larger process of McDonaldization, coined by sociologist George Ritzer, that describes the rationalization of the modern world.

On the other hand, we live in a country that really pays attention to job reports with less interest in what kinds of jobs were actually created. The April jobs figures showed good jobs growth but we could inquire about the quality of these jobs: are they well-paying, sustainable jobs that will pay American workers for decades to come? Or, were the majority of jobs middling to lower-skilled jobs that serve American consumers in the service industry?

In the end, we have a society that is quite dependent on such “McJobs.” The term is unlikely to go away though it clearly applies to a lot more corporations and areas than simply McDonald’s. Just as Walmart tends to get singled out as emblematic of big box stores and suburban sprawl because of its revenue (still at the top of the Fortune 500), McDonald’s size and influence draws attention (Super Size Me, anyone?). But as a society, we could have larger and ongoing discussions about what kind of jobs we wish to hold and to promote. In these discussions, we need corporations like McDonald’s, Walmart, Starbucks, Apple, and others involved to think about the American future.