This report from the FT on travails at McDonalds took me back some thirty years when, as a schoolboy in London, I spent a summer vacation working at one of the first McDonalds restaurants to open in the UK.
Before Mickey D arrived, the typical solution to the average British shopper’s hunger pangs was a curly cheese sandwich, a bag of soggy chips or a largely indigestible meat-flavored bun called a ‘Wimpy burger.’ McDonalds’ popularity was instant and overwhelming.
With my job came a uniform and an introduction to a revolutionary work ethic. Where service at the local Wimpy Bar came with a sneer, at McDonald’s “the customer was King.” When burgers didn’t need flipping we were required to proactively seek out ways to ‘help’ our ‘customers.’ And any time when we were absolutely sure there were no customers needing help, we made sure that every table in the restaurant was clean for them, every ‘trash can’ empty for them and every square inch of the kitchen spotless and sanitary for them.
Most of my school vacation jobs have since served only as fodder for dinner conversations along the lines of ‘what was the worst job you ever had?’ My job at McDonalds by contrast provided me with some enduring lessons about what makes a market economy tick. It also began my lifelong love affair with America.
Mickey D’s critics may be right that attitudes have changed and so the restaurant should change with them. But I remain deeply suspicious of their claims that its jobs are “excessively pressurized.” To me, that sounds like they have in mind something that ends not with a burger but with a Wimpy.