Monday, December 12, 2011
Two Worthwhile Foods Do Not Justify The McDonald's On Every Corner!
The Good: Shamrock shakes, Easy-to-find, Diversity in staff
The Bad: Generally low quality of the food, Radically different service location to location
The Basics: Despite good seasonal shakes and a diverse, though not always competent, workforce, McDonald's is not a place I'm likely to eat at when any other choices are available.
I'm not someone who lives by calendars. In fact, when I eventually rejoin the workforce (if ever again), I am sure that I will be traumatized by having places to be on certain days and that sort of thing. But, as it turns out, my review of McDonald's falls on a pretty significant day of the year, as far as such things are concerned. The only reason I usually go to McDonald's is for their Shamrock Shake, a frosty mint beverage that is good, but not good enough to justify the tens of thousands of locations everywhere in the world. Because of the presence of this limited edition beverage, I have made several trips to McDonald's restaurants in the area the last few days, so I figured it was about time I reviewed this restaurant.
I am not a fan. One need not be made fearful from movies like Super-size Me (reviewed here!) or other health studies to not be a fan of McDonald's. The truth is, I seldom look at health information on food, so I tend to go by taste. The last few days, I have come to understand fully why my father loathed giving us the choice as children as to where we wanted to go out to dinner once a month. We invariably chose McDonald's and to my father: sorry for that.
It's also important to me to say that while I fully stand by panning McDonald's as a restaurant, I think the Ronald McDonald House is a wonderful concept and if there were a way for that charity to raise as much money as it does without the restaurant, I think it would be awesome. The two, however, are very separate institutions in my mind.
McDonald’s is a chain restaurant and they have achieved complete penetration of the United States as well as a decent presence in Canada, Europe and even China. It is everywhere, much like the Borg and it is the staple fast food restaurant and an ubiquitous symbol of inexpensive food worldwide. In addition to freestanding McDonald's restaurants, McDonald's is a frequent fixture in American malls as its chief demographic seems to be younger people with moderate amounts of disposable income.
McDonald's locations tend to set themselves apart from most areas they are in by having red and yellow as its color scheme. Older locations tend to have red roofs and newer locations tend to have a lot of glass and, where possible, large indoor play areas clearly visible from the road (if not outer space). The brand’s color scheme is red and yellow and the brand is as consistent with their outward appearance as regional styles allow. Virtually every McDonald's restaurant is equipped with hard plastic booths and a few tables which are purposely uncomfortable. McDonald's, like most fast food restaurants, is a chain hoping to do business in volume and thus, they do not want customers getting too comfortable and lingering at the restaurant.
The golden arch symbol of McDonald's restaurants is almost universally recognizable to anyone who has lived in the United States or visited for any protracted amount of time.
Like most fast food chain restaurants, McDonald's does not have traditional waitstaff. Instead, one places an order at a main counter, above which hangs the menu and their order is assembled by a team and the customer picks their food up further down the counter. McDonald's tends to have a younger staff in many of their locations, which might also account for why it is so popular with teens and younger children. The young workforce tends to mean drastically inconsistent service from location to location, though managers tend to be older and problems get resolved quickly and efficiently as a result.
McDonald's also tends to have remarkably inclusive hiring policies, which was almost enough for me to bump the overall rating up to a two-star. Despite the issues I have with the food, I applaud how McDonald's openly hires people of all ages, colors, mental abilities, etc. They are an exceptional company to use to illustrate the power of diversity. If McDonald's hiring and promotion practices were in effect for all jobs, we wouldn't need the U.N.; diversity would be on every streetcorner.
Alas, though, when it comes to restaurants, it comes down to food. The food at McDonald's is inexpensive, salty, greasy, deep-fried and has little in the way of enduring nutritional value. Trading on volume, they have a dollar menu geared toward moving cheap hamburgers, fries and, especially, softdrinks. The last few days, I have tried several things on the menu and the only reason I will ever go back to a McDonald's is for the shamrock shake.
The Shamrock shake is a mint-flavored (not)milk shake which is green and if you drink enough of them has the effect of turning your waste the same color. It's not pretty, but it's real. But, it's also how good the Shamrock shakes are; the sweet, minty beverages are unlike anything else on the planet and as a result, I cram as many of the frozen beverages into me as the season and my wallet will allow.
That said, McDonald's also has vanilla, chocolate and strawberry shakes, none of which taste much like the real flavor of any of the flavors they claim to. The vanilla is bland and cold, but is nothing like the flavor of vanilla beans; it's basically the flavor of cold milk. Similarly, the chocolate shakes are more like cold chocolate milk than actual chocolate. The strawberry shakes taste like pink and while they are sweet and mildly interesting, they have only the most vague fruit flavor.
In recent years, McDonald's has become a player in the coffee house market as they try to sell their coffee under the "McCafe" imprint. On my last trip out to Las Vegas, my partner and I were traveling on a day when the chain was giving out free Mocha flavored coffees. They were universally terrible, though the staff giving them out in New Mexico was remarkably friendly. Sadly, the only other experience I've had with McDonald's coffee was when a friend of mine treated her daughter and I to McDonald's coffee and a former student of mine served me up a cup which could only be described as "burnt." Yes, one of my former students managed to burn coffee and sell it to my friend. Ick.
As for more recent memory, McDonald's has a number of hamburger and cheeseburger options and in the last week, I've stuck to the cheeseburger while testing the burger half of things. The cheeseburger is one of the most limp pieces of food that has ever passed my lips. The thin patty of meat sagged as much as the bun did; the pickles I didn't want had more resilience. The meat itself was served lukewarm on a soggy bun with cheese that was clearly more oil than milk. The ketchup and mustard that came standard were not enough to obscure the lack of flavor to the meat.
Ironically, then, the chicken nuggets I had were flavorful and moderately salty and spicy. It's weird when chicken has more flavor than beef, but my experiences at McDonald's have illustrated that to be the case. Sadly, any of the sauces - including the honey sauce - that the chicken nuggets may be purchased with to be dipped in overwhelm the chicken taste. The chicken sandwich I tried was as limp and pathetic as the cheeseburger and the lettuce on it was a mockery of lettuce as it was wilted and had a slimy consistency.
And, while it might seem like I am kicking the cuisine while it is down, I did try a fish sandwich. Rather than going into the specifics of how bad and unlike fish (even processed fish!) it tasted like, I'll just say: "I tried a fish sandwich. I won't be doing that again."
What cinched the deal for me for the overall negativity of the food was the french fries. I like french fries. I like them hot and salty and if they are a little greasy, fine. What doesn't work for me is cold, heavily greasy and unsalted. Yet, at four different locations in the last week, that's what I received.
My one breakfast outing to a McDonald's this week yielded twin disappointments. The first was that the shamrock shakes were not available (I'm not sure I understand that, as it was a 24 hour McDonald's). The second was the particularly uninspired egg muffin sandwich I purchased. The egg patty was lukewarm, but the cheese that was on it was cold enough that it was not melted and not melting at all. To wit, the edge of the cheese poked out of the biscuit and at no point did the point droop toward the egg, it was like the cheese was determined not to melt to the egg. The sausage that was on the sandwich was greasy in a way that I found irksome and I decided a McDonald's breakfast was nothing to ever wake up for again.
McDonald's is everywhere, but that does not mean the food there is particularly good or good for consumers. If I am traveling and am near death from the discomforts of hunger, I might stop at a McDonald's again for food. But given how most gas stations have some food available at them, I don't think that will be necessary.
So, until next year when Shamrock Shakes are once again available, I'm done with McDonald's.
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© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.