Best place to work: McDonald’s France

French people like to do things their own way. When they brought McDonald’s to their country, they customized it right down to the famous yellow on red logo that we have in the United States. In France, they like a more subdued green in the background.

Although the French are justifiably proud of their national cuisine, they have also become quite taken with perhaps that most American of foods: McDonald’s. The American fast-food giant has been so successful in France that until recently it was the second most profitable market for McDonalds in the world after the United States. McDonalds achieved success in France partly by adapting their restaurant to local tastes. For example NPR’s Elenor Beardsley reports that McDonald’s in France provides a much more elegant atmosphere.

Even in these harried times, the French spend more than two hours a day at the table. Sitting down to a meal is a cornerstone of French culture, and McDonald’s seems to get that. French McDonald’s are spacious, tastefully decorated restaurants that encourage people to take their time while eating. And the cozy McCafe’s with their plush chairs and sofas have become an extension to many restaurants.

The food is different too. In France McDonald’s uses mostly locally-sourced, high-quality ingredients like cheeses that include chevre, Roquefort, cantal and blue cheese, rather than the “homogeneous plastic mass” which is the legal term for the “American cheese” used in America. One reason French McDonald’s have better food is due to activists like José Bové who went to jail for destroying a McDonald’s as a symbolic protest against low-quality globalized food.

In the long run, this may have helped McDonald’s achieve much greater success than it’s arch rival Burger King which didn’t adapt to French tastes.  McDonalds started serving McBeer and produced local dishes designed by French chefs such as gallette des rois cakes and the McBaguette with artisanal jams.  A Wharton analysis cited a 2009 study that found that more than 70% of the sandwiches eaten in France were baguette sandwiches.

Unlike their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, French consumers rarely snack between breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a result, French meal times also last longer, and more food is consumed through multiple courses, creating unique opportunities and challenges for fast-food dining…

McDonald’s has capitalized on the French cultural preference for longer meals by using surplus labor to provide table-side service, particularly in taking orders from lingering diners inclined to order an additional coffee or dessert item. Thanks to such initiatives,  the average French consumer spends about US$15 per visit to McDonald’s — four times what their American counterparts spend…
the French spent an average of 38 minutes per meal in 2005, down from an average of 82 minutes in 1978.

Of course, McDonalds has brought many of its American features to France like the familiar Big Mac and spotless free bathrooms. That is a true gift of American cultural imperialism. Free bathrooms are hard to find in this country of pay toilets except in American fast-food chains. But because McDonalds France is run as a semi-independent subsidiary, it not only has a unique menu, ambiance, and logo, but a unique corporate culture too.

NPR’s Rough Translation tells the story of a McDonalds in a low-income Muslim neighborhood in the seedy city of Marseille that is known for gangs and crime. The McDonalds franchise’s slogan is “Come as you are” and it saw its mission as being part of each community. This tradition was shaped by stories they heard from America such as during the LA riots of 1992 after the Rodney King beating, the rioters who were trashing and burning entire blocks of restaurants and stores spared McDonalds because they felt like McDonalds was more of a part of their community than the other businesses. Unlike most businesses, McDonald’s mostly hired local people and because it was owned by a local franchisee who was invested in the local neighborhood, McDonalds gave out free food and other local philanthropy to help the local neighborhoods. Most other businesses didn’t do that and they got burned.

NPR tells the story about how McDonalds in Marseille took that principle up to a level that engendered loyal fanaticism among its employees culminating in an event where one of them doused himself with gasoline and threatened to immolate himself in protest to prevent a local store from being shut down. Now McDonalds in France does pay better than in the US, but it starts at their minimum wage which is only about $11 per hour, so it wasn’t the pay that makes employees love their job so much.

If you didn’t click on the link above, you gotta click now to listen to the whole story.  It isn’t everyday that you’ll hear a story about fast food workers that makes you swell with emotion.

They love their job partly because McDonalds gives them a chance and respect that most other employers don’t give. Men’s Warehouse had a similar strategy of hiring employees who might even be shunned by other employers because that engenders loyalty.

Men’s Wearhouse founder George Zimmer has been an outspoken advocate of providing felons with a second chance. As a result of this Men’s Wearhouse does not conduct criminal background checks for employees or those interviewing for positions.”

My third longest job in my life was at McDonald’s and I wouldn’t say that it was a place I liked to be, and most of us were not particularly loyal to it, but I did respect how well they inculcated a culture of hard work and many of my co-workers really did get a feeling of accomplishment from doing good work there. Even though I was always a McDonald’s cynic who grew up in an anti-fast-food, anti-big-business family and I disliked the idea of McDonald’s–even I sometimes had a tinge of envy or competitiveness when I saw how much better some of my co-workers could perform than I.

Posted in Medianism

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