12:18:48 pm on
Wednesday 24 Jul 2024

A Sustainable Mac
David Simmonds

Things are sure changing out there in fast food land.

New ideas from McDonalds about hamburgers.

Just the other day, McDonalds Restaurants of Canada Limited announced that it was going to spend, about $200,000 per restaurant on upgrades, and enlarge its work force by about 30 per cent. Says John Betts, the company president, “We want our guests to walk in and be wowed by an experience that’s modern and personalized, but still the McDonalds they know and love.”

How is it going to do that? Well, the customer will be welcomed in and good-byed out, by staff known as Guest Experience Leaders. The significant part seems to entail a new Self-Order Kiosk that allows the customer to customize his or her burger. According to the company’s recent press release, “The new Create Your Taste menu lets guests build their own premium burger (the trademarked “Mighty Angus”) in five simple steps. Guests can choose from nearly 30 options, including 5 types of cheese, 12 toppings, 2 buns, a lettuce wrap and 9 sauces. “Food ordered in this manner will be brought to the customer directly by “dedicated wait staff.” Every employee is always dedicated to the job: the work of these employees dedicated to wait staffing.

Five simple steps, it’s that simple, as in ‘simple as an automated parking lot pay machine’? I can just see someone, such as me. Well, in the grip of a hamburger craving, trying desperately to make the Kiosk work. Making a public spectacle of me, the “modern” experience, at least until one of the Guest Experience Leaders comes over, with the ostensible intention of putting me out of my misery, but with the net result of enhancing my shame, as the “personalized” experience.

McDonalds hope patrons will order from a machine and pay with plastic.

McDonalds no doubt hopes that patrons that order from a machine and pay with a piece of plastic will be somewhat less restrained and more self-indulgent when she or he orders a Mighty Angus burger, with three types of cheese and seven toppings; hold the lettuce wrap, but throw in a large fries and a milkshake. There’s a problem. Although you no longer have to demonstrate your lack of hamburger discipline, to the counter staff, the dedicated wait staff will know. They, if they want to keep their jobs are going to have to refrain from yelling out, “Who ordered the toppings with a side of Mighty Angus burger?” or from making smarmy eye contact with a look that says, “Are you related to Falstaff?”

Not every restaurant will feature new Self-Order Kiosks, however. I assume even in stores that do add this feature, it will be possible to bypass the Guest Experience Leader and go directly to the counter to purchase a standard issue, pre-toppinged Big Mac.

Maybe McDonalds is trying to have it both ways, at least until it can sense which way the wind is blowing. Is a hamburger going to be a luxury item that a consumer will be willing to pay good money to eat? Alternatively, will it remain an industrial grade product that satisfies a basic craving at a low price? Not, as Jerry Seinfeld used to put it, that there is anything wrong with either alternative.

What’s next for McDonalds, a pop steward or a tasting menu? How are competitors going to keep pace? Will Wendy’s introduce Maître Ds? Will Harveys counter with waiters in tuxedos?

McDonalds has laid out a bit of a road map.

Under the heading “Focus on Food Quality,” the company states, “The next chapter will also advance McDonalds sustainability and Canadian sourcing initiatives.” For example, the company had announced, back in September, that it was moving to obtain its eggs from free-run sources in Canada, over the next ten years. Then it announced that it had developed guidelines for the production and supply of sustainable beef from Canada.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to McDonalds ingenuity comes not from its existing competitors but from plant-based meat substitutes. The former tofu burgers and tofu dogs are, according to a recent New York “Times” article, about introduce next generation foods that taste much more like real meat.

“Buyers,“ says Nicholas Kristof, “won’t just be vegans, but also carnivores simply looking for healthy, sustainable, cheap food. If the alternatives to meat are tasty, healthier, cheaper, better for the environment and pose fewer ethical challenges, the result may be a revolution in the human diet.”

Free-range options may remain.

I think McDonalds is smart enough to leave a few of its free-range eggs in this basket, too. Maybe advertisements are in development for the ‘McVeggie; ’the ‘Big Grass’ or the ‘McFooledYa.’ Maybe I should grab both a Mighty Angus and a Big Mac before it’s too late ; from the counter, not the Self-Order Kiosk.


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

More by David Simmonds:
Tell a Friend

Click above to tell a friend about this article.