My McDonalds Is From Paris
So I eat in McDonalds like once a week. Usually with my mate Sam who has been a habitual McDonalds eater as long as I’ve known him and always orders the same thing. I can’t remember what his order is cause we’re not a pair of rheumy-eyed octogenarians holding hands and talking to Ira Glass about how we first met on a This American Life episode called Long Ass Marriages Are Always Cute.
The McDonalds where I live is done up to feel expensive. It’s not new but they hit the whole place with that McDonalds Café vibe as hard as they possibly could. Most of the McDonalds I’ve found myself in in recent years,in Dublin or London, have been the standard issue set-up I recognise from when I was younger. Whenever I’m in the one here, it’s a whole separate set of experiences.
I hear you screaming “BUT HOW SEAN? TELL US HOW?” from your keyboard, which is doubtlessly already flecked with your stress-induced tears and forehead sweat. Well steady yourself, my friend. Imma let you know right quick.
Half of this Mahogany Donalds experience is really dumb and the other 50% is oddly gratifying. To whit: McDonalds is always a bit of an emotionally draining experience because of the beams resignation and excitement everyone is feeling. Not that McDonalds is any less of a place to eat than anywhere else that relies on salt and fat but for everyone there in the middle of the day during school holidays it’s either “OH SHIT, I AM SO EXCITED” or “oh shit, I can no longer fight this”. But now this weird intensity is compounded by this weird Principal’s Office/Job Interview You’re Bound To Fail feeling. It can get tense.
However: no one looks at each other. At all. Seriously, way more so than even the usual apathy that pervades in fast food places midday when the only drunk people are functionally drunk people who won’t act out. There’s something about this dark, woody vibe that just calms people all the way down even further.
For whatever reason the McDonalds where I live are forever needing to drop things down to people. In Supermacs, the Irish fast food chain, you can see the apprehension on the person working there’s face before they even come out from behind the counter. Supermacs is bright. It’s 2001:A Space Odyssey bright. When a staff member moves around its like a beacon. Whereas in Mad Men Donalds, the staff just materialise from the muted colours, drop the thing they didn’t have on hand when you ordered it while looking over their head and then they zip back into the mauve ether. It’s kind of better for everyone.
But it also dehumanises them. God knows people that work in the food service industry get enough of that already. Is invisibility a better kind of dehumanisation than the Freely Usable Human Stress Ball position most bright fast food places put their staff in. Oh Shit, Fancyfication Of McDonalds! You really are doing all you can to give credence to that giveth/taketh thing I cleverly established several paragraphs ago.
The chairs too, are these giant, super-villain leather-esque things that are so large they can’t really fit around the weirdly-small tables they set them around. It turns sitting down while holding trays into a Jacques Tati production, sitting down in them too. I can see a drunk man toppling one of these fuckers on an errant toddler and starting a versus with an exhausted parent before anyone knows what’s going on.
But once you do get yourself situated, oh man. It freezes out the rest of McDonalds even further. The wide, high wings of the chair create a blinker effect and your nose-deep in whatever paper-wrapped objects you demanded, excluding the existence of all else from your mind. That seems to be the approach here: make McDonalds look a whole lot “nicer” (albeit in the most superficial, menswear-blogging, Mad-Men-watching way) and then tricking people into not looking around.
These hypno chairs really work, man. Like the regulation weirdo McDonalds shit was happening: 14 boisterous 10 to 12 year olds steamed in, filled the weirdly low-key kids area, bellowed at each other for 10 minutes and then steamed away again following some telepathic consensus, supervisionless and having eaten nothing. Usually Sam and I would have provided a running commentary on something like this, like one of those charming movies about intensely smug white dudes with nothing to say that people loved in the 90s, but it barely registered. Such is the power of the hypno chair.
Even McDonald’s newish Mozzarella Sticks (you’ll have to excuse me, I’m a bit of a foodie) underlined the machinations of my local McDonalds’ new look. Like, you’re eating deep-friend cheese but McDonalds is presenting it with this weird veneer where it’s like “Take a break from your globe-trotting adventures, hang up your sword cane and cool your heels while chewing on one of our exotic spiced diary sticks”. All that REAL Restaurant food that consists mainly of butter uses this veneer a lot, Guardian food magazine recipes that have some line to the effect of “then throw a couple of sticks of butter in that shit, cutty”, but it’s a new enough thing for McDonalds, surely?
Some part of me feels like this is a response to Starbucks and Subway, where people assume the stuff being squeezed into food shapes is somehow better for them cause the signs are green and the stuff is expensive.
This has either been around for ages and I’ve only noticed cause my local McDs where they test shit out in Ireland or else they scrapped the idea and the local lads are holding out. Either way, that’s the first and last time I eat those god-awful fucking mozzarella sticks. Eff that all the way back to the Jamie Oliver-watching bro at McDonalds HQ who came up with that shit. Again, they’ve probably had them for years but I’m a slow man when it comes to this.