2 days ago on April 15th 2008, Mc Donald's celebrated its 53rd birthday. Mc Donald's chain of restaurants popularly known as
Mc Ds has come a long way, establishing itself as a symbolic icon of the world being a global village, a pioneer of innovative contemporary business models and more importantly than all, one stop place all over the world for a quick quality meal.
I recall my first visit to a Mc Donald's in Gurgaon in 2003, what appealed to me then was the clean shining tables, large play ground like eating areas, and a very quick friendly service across the counter. That visit has led to several others in more than 50 cities and across 5 countries and all I would say about a Mc Donald's is " I'm Loving it".
Being the world's largest chain of fast food restaurants, feeding nearly 54 million hungry stomachs daily does not mean that the journey for Mc Donald hasn't been without hurdles. Among the critiques are allegations that McDonald's uses its political influence to increase their own profits at the expense of people's health and the social conditions of its workers. In 2002,(Exactly one year before my first visit!) vegetarian groups, largely Indians successfully sued McDonald's for misrepresenting their French fries as vegetarian. Even after the discontinuation of frying the French fries in beef tallow in 1990, the French fries still had beef extract added to them. (For the benefit of my vegetarian readers in the U.S.: it is believed that the French fries sold by Mc D in the U.S. still contain beef and animal flavoring).
With all that, I am not surprised at the reaction of many Mc D fans across the world "I'm Loving it". I was in Chennai with this engineer from the U.S. who was on his first visit to India, telling me that , after a hard day's work the only restaurant he could confidently walk into in India, (without experiencing a cultural difference) and order what he was sure he would like was a Mc Donald's. On my first visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh, I realised being a vegetarian was not an easy thing at all. With a very strong language barrier (English is a very tough option for many Bangladeshies!) and with a strong tendency to serve anything far from vegetarian in every restaurant, I was almost left with very little option than to live on plantains and biscuits. But only until, I discovered this Mc D across the street. Lesson 1: If you are a vegetarian and in Bangladesh, rush to a Mc D.
Malaysia is not such a difficult option in terms of being a vegetarian. I walked into this Mc D in KL, and asked them if they served any vegetarian burgers. This smart gentleman across the counter (very typical of Mc D to have smart men across counters!!) said "Yes", and pointed towards the 'Mc Menu chart" at a Vegetarian Burger with Sauce. Innocently, I ordered it and took the tray to my table. Before I could eat a bite, I saw the smart gentleman rushing towards me. "Are you a Hindu brahmin?" was his question. Although I was shocked by this sudden question regarding my religious belief from an individual (who by my guess was a Philippine!), I was more than relieved when he explained how he had read about Hindu Brahmins not eating fish, and that the "sauce" in my burger may have traces of fish flavour and had rushed to me so that I was well informed before I eat it. When I admitted to him that I was a "Hindu Brahmin" after all, he was more than apologetic. He offered to give me a pure vegetarian burger free of cost.(without the sauce of course!) Now that is what I call customer centric service. I might have never realised a trace of fish in a sauce. He needn't have told me at all! But then, that's Mc D for you.
It is very difficult to find a vegetarian burger in the Mc Ds in Finland. It was late in the night and I was hungry so I decided to give it a try. The guy in the counter apologised to me that he didn't have anything purely vegetarian. I asked him if he could go "outside the box" and think of a way to feed my hungry tummy. True to the Mc D tradition, he came up with a solution right away. "I can offer you the Beef Burger" he said "But without the Beef!!" Now this special variant of Mc D burger is purely vegetarian, and has only a vegetable patty and some greens without any beef!! Every time I am in Finland or Germany I know what to order in Mc D , A beef burger without beef!!
Many people also feel that Mc Donald's eating is not a healthy way to eat. Often Mc'D is also a butt of office room jokes. I had this Italian friend who thought that he would go starving for a year if necessary but wont eat any junk food at Mc D. Well unhealthy or healthy, I just have one thing to say. I'm loving it.