McDonalds at the Olympics: a food culture that works

I’m just in from Olympic Park, where an amazing and memorable family day out included lunch at McDonalds.

Hypocrisy, after all I’ve written and said about ‘junk’ food? You may say so, but let’s put the nutrition argument aside for a moment and just concentrate on the customer experience.

It’s true that the McDonald’s building – plonked as it is right in from of the architectural wonder of the Olympic Stadium – is a bit of a blot on the landscape. But when your tummy starts rumbling, one’s aesthetic sensibilities tend to take a back seat. When we arrived at the venue feeling more than a little peckish, it’s interesting that we were drawn to McDonalds.

There were plenty other food outlets to choose from; sandwich bars, salad bars, panini bars, coffee shops, as well as chocolate trolleys and a pub, but we first headed for the golden arches. Why?

McDonalds was a known entity, and a glance through its doors was enough to entice. It was a lively, ‘buzzy’ scene, with plenty of supervisors and ‘suits’ to keep on top of potential chaos.

By contrast, that buzz was absent at all the other outlets. Bored-looking staff hinted at slack service and disappointing food. So before taking our seats, we queued for breakfast muffins, good coffee and fruit juice which set us up for the day. Lots of other people were doing the same – in contrast to the other outlets which were, by and large, virtually empty.

We did go to the seafood and champagne bar for lunch. And it was a shambles. Lots of staff, very few customers, our food took ages and was served by staff who had no product knowledge and didn’t seem even slightly interested in getting any.

We were left laughing in disbelief. A Seafood and Champagne bar at the top end, McDonalds at the bottom, but between them it was no contest. There’s absolutely no chance we’ll be going back for more seafood. But another breakfast McMuffin? Absolutely.

If McDonalds had not been there for our morning snack, what would we have done? Myself, I probably would have had a coffee and done without the rest. Like so many customers in schools if they are served food and drink that they don’t put down as favourites. Or if it is not served with a smile.

And then what happens? Sales go down, usage goes down, commercial viability goes down. Sponsorship suffers and everyone apparently loses out.

Look, I do have sympathy for those who worry about the negative health and nutritional example set by having McDonalds as major Games sponsors. But I struggle to think what could replace them. McDonalds is not haute cuisine, nor is it very healthy. But is eating nothing healthier?

That’s one for the nutritionists, I guess. Looking at our own meal, we ate carbs, protein and some fat accompanied by fresh fruit juice and coffee with semi-skimmed milk. Not brilliant maybe, but then, our day at the Olympics was something so special that the treat of going to McDonalds for the day did not detract from it.

I wouldn’t serve this to my kids every day, indeed, it’s probably been a year or so since we last answered the question ‘what toy would you like with your Happy Meal?’ So I’m left, as I so often am, by thinking that everything in moderation is still good.

And I’m left with one further thought too. Unless we give people alternatives that offer consistence, brand familiarity, value and speed, and top that off with healthy, visitors will mostly choose McDonalds over all the others. And you know what? I don’t feel so bad about that.

Till next time,

Steve

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