McDonalds, High St. Exeter (2/5)

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There has been a lot written about McDonalds in recent years. There are books about fast food Such as Fast Food Nation, Morgan Spurlock‘s film Supersize Me, there are anti-McDonald websites, pro McDonald websites and everything in between.

There are people that love McDonalds, others that are indifferent and those who vehemently oppose its existance. There are other people that go in to a McDonalds out of choice, every single day of their lives, others who go a couple of times a week and some people that have never stepped under the golden M, ever and everyone in between.

My first experience of a fast food chain was a Burger King in Exeter, around about 1985/86. It was a treat, something to be savoured and enjoyed very rarely. Sometimes my mum and me went to the cinema and then went to a Burger King afterwards, finishing off some of the happiest afternoons of my little life up to that point. There was never any thought in my little mind that the concept and the stark reality of ‘fast food’ might be something dubious or disgusting.

Insert a movie montage of me eating fast food over an extended period of time up to the age of 18.

The point that changed my mind about McDonalds was after reading a stack of literature from various animal rights groups. But what really changed my mind was apathy. I was poor, I didn’t live near a McDonalds and I had no interest in who they were and what they really stood for and I didn’t like the food.
But after 10 years of ignoring McDonalds and living a pure and free lifestyle free from most fast food and generally enjoying life as a vegetarian for three of those years, something happened. I came back through the arches to see again, exactly what all the fuss was about? Were they still as bad as all that?

What is there to say about a McDonalds burger?  It goes in and you poop it out the other end as your body says to you ‘don’t ever do that to me again’.  The McDonalds burger is a chemically engineered masterpiece that is meant to be perfect in every way.  The smell, the size, the texture and the colour has been manufactured to such a degree that it will taste as good and as promising from Beijing to Boston yet despite the millions that McDonalds have put in to R&D, it is a shame that the end product can be so, well, disappointing.
Things taste better when you know that you’ve paid a good price for it, but when you are paying for food that is nearly as expensive as some of the chain italian restaurants, your decision has to be justified by the taste and the experience.  This is hard to do if the burger tastes of cardboard, the person behind the counter has a face like a slapped arse and the restaurant is full of screaming over active children.
Despite the fact that McDonalds has democratised their menu so that poor lepers like myself and the great unwashed can afford a double cheeseburger for £1.29 etc, the feeling of betrayal seems to seep in the moment you even think about going near a McDonalds restaurant.  The knowledge that essentially what you are about to receive, is going to be soggy and substandard by definition means that the marketing emphasis has to be drawn away from the quality of the food.
This explains why McDonalds emphasises so much on the customer and their experience as they walk up to the counter, The management know that the food will only taste good when the service has been exquisite and their punters feel like they’ve had value for money.  Ultimately, the burgers won’t cut it on their own, so the whole experience has to be engineered to make the feeling of value, a feeling that will stay. (Basic retail psychology).

There is little to distinguish a Big Mac from other burgers unless you are a fast food snob.  To the average person that eats enough healthy food to know that they are all bad for you, they are also all identical. 
Stacks of chemical infused pseudo-food cooked on some mythical barbaque and created with empty love.  But to those of us who quite simply LIKE fast food there are subtle differences. 
At this point I want to introduce the antithesis of healthy eating, a website dedicated to the love of Fast Food.  http://www.fastfoodsource.com/ is intriguing reading and includes a fascinating survey of fast food lovers, more on that in a bit.
In my personal experience, Burger King burgers are vastly different in taste, texture and appearance than McDonalds Burgers and the same for KFC burgers too.  The chips are similiar but still differing in texture, taste and crunchiness.  The size is important too and so is the texture and quantity of the sauces.  In the KFC universe, a Hot Wing cooked in Paddington is going to be different from one cooked in Exeter, but with a difference only noticed by those who eat a lot of Hot Wings.  The consistency of Fast Food is one appeal amongst few, you know that a Big Mac in Greece is ultimately going to be the same as a Big Mac in Venezuala or Mexico.  Yes, there are regional variations, but the recipe is going to be the same.

So, lets review a McDonalds restaurant.  How about visiting it at 01:00am on a Friday night?  How about the reviewer be so inebriated, he can barely remember how he got there, let alone what he ate?
The Exeter High St. branch of McDonalds is a little like a massive warehouse.  55,000 tills look at you with 55,000 McDonalds employees staring at you desparate to serve you.  One thing I will say here, is that the majority of McDonalds servants seem to expect you to know exactly what you want the minute you go anywhere near a till, surely if I was ready to order I would approach a till?  Just a thought.

Since McDonalds attempt to upbrand itself with dark greens and browns, the restaurant spaces are much nicer places to eat in.  In some cases, they are far nicer then many restaurants that are serving ‘proper food’  in the vicinity given the well designed nature of the interiors.  Exeter is one of lucky outlets that have had this facelift, and on the whole it is nice, although the usual accumulation of wrappers and detritus spread across the restaurant at that time of the morning somewhat ruined the appeal.

On this occasion, I ordered some sort of chicken thing with a collection of chips and some vat of an unknown liquid that was not alcoholic.  As we waited patiently for our food to materialise, I noticed that there were far too many people behind the till, and that ultimately the whole process could be automated with minimal disruption.  I envisioned a large automatron behind the tills, a HAL9000 figure killing cows at one end and making fresh burgers at the restaurant end.
This idea, although fantastic at the time, was inevitably brought on by the excessive amount of alcohol I had consumed at this point, so I quietly hid it in my hat until we got to one of the messy tables and told my beloved about this fantastic idea to which I got little enthusiasm.

The fact that McDonalds is open  until very late is a good thing, the fact that everyone else realises this is a bad thing.  The fact that convieniance food is available to those who do not have the means to cook it themselves is a good thing.  The fact that people who are pissed out of their skull can find somewhere in Exeter that is NOT KFC, is also a good thing.  The fact that McDonalds exists is, on one level, a debatably good thing.  The fact that Dick and Mac MacDonald opened a restaurant in 1940 that eventually grew into the monolith that it is today, means that if they had not done it, someone else would have.

Here is an enlightening survey  from FastFoodSource by the way.

190 HIGH STREET, EXETER, EX4 3DU

01392 413737

http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk/

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