Parlez-vous “McDo”?

Photo by Jay Noennig via Flickr

A friend living in Bordeaux recently shared this story with me. In it, NPR’s reporter in France, Eleanor Beardsley, notes just how successful McDonald’s has become there in the past decade, in large measure by Frenchifying their approach to fast food. “McDonald’s is the world’s largest food chain. It operates in 123 countries around the world, and just this week the company said it plans to open another 1,300 restaurants in 2012. Naturally, the U.S. is its no. 1 market, but guess who is no. 2? You got it: France. A paper out this month by three graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business says McDonald’s is such a success in the land of Michelin three-star restaurants because it has adapted to French eating habits and tastes. There are now 1,200 franchises in France; the company opened 30 restaurants per year in the past five years alone.”

Just how this came to pass is well described in this piece at Slate, an excerpt from Mike Steinberger’s book, Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France. Steinberger puts his skepticism right up front; describing his experience seeing the booth for McDo (French shorthand for the golden arches) at the 2007 Salon International de l’Agriculture, he writes: “Cooked down to its essence, the message from McDonald’s was that its food was French, it was good for you, and it was good for the environment. I wasn’t buying it, but the intended audience clearly was. Didn’t these kids realize that McDonald’s was the Trojan horse of mondialisation and that they were committing cultural treason? Why weren’t their parents stopping them?” As he goes on to describe, many French people have accepted McDo into their eating routines precisely because it has in many ways adapted to modern French culture. As Steinberger outlines, the mastermind behind the company’s growth in France was Denis Hennequin; although he left McDonald’s in late 2010, he was instrumental in crafting a French identity for the American fast-food giant. Not content to simply maintain the status quo, the company recently began to refresh its restaurant designs, beginning with a pilot project near Toulouse to be followed by 6 more test sites.

For the details of how McDonald’s became such a French success, check out the NPR and Slate pieces above. Also worth reading is this 2009 article from The New York Times, in which the French people largely ignore news of a McDonald’s opening below the Louvre. Finally, for an unfiltered dose of corporate propaganda in French, including the latest promotional toy tie-ins for the Happy Meals (yes, even in France McDonald’s still manages to retain core aspects of its business plan), visit the company’s website for France.



    • Todd Ingram

      Wow, that Vador bun really does look très bien cuit! I love how the article tries to reassure the reader about this: “But don’t worry. Potential buyers should have no fear because, the Daily Mail is reporting, the buns are merely dyed, not burnt.” No, bread dyed to be black as night doesn’t worry me at all. 🙂

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