McDonald's Takes Paris
Le Big Mac Booms in the Land of Haute Cuisine
BY JACOB GERSHMAN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
July 2, 2007
PARIS — After devouring a Big Mac, a royal cheese, and paprika-flavored potato wedges dipped in mayonnaise, Romain Bertucca, a shaggy-haired 22-year-old drama student wearing a beret and ripped jeans, explained why he eats McDonald's.
"It's quick. The food is hot. It's not like a sandwich. It's McDonald's," he said, sitting on a stool with a friend on Thursday afternoon, overlooking Avenue de Wagram, two blocks from the Arc de Triomphe.
Mr. Bertucca is not alone in his endorsement of McDonald's, or MAKdoeNAHLDS, as it's pronounced here. In this land of haute cuisine where American tourists are customarily greeted with Gallic scorn, the world's largest fast food company is more popular than ever.
Last year, McDonald's sales in France grew by 8%, almost doubling its growth in American sales, which have also rebounded in recent years. Every 12 months, one out of two French people visit McDonald's at least once. Annually, they consume 22 million McDonald's salads, 60,000 tons of French fries, 32,000 tons of beef patties, 12,000 tons of chicken, and 600 million buns.
"We hate it and go to it. It's our paradox," a journalist for the French magazine Challenges, Alice Mérieux, said. "We're very anti-American in principle, but individually, if you're going to the movies and have to eat in 10 minutes, you go to McDonald's."
After years of stagnant sales, McDonald's success also appears to be spreading throughout the rest of Europe, which posted first-quarter 2007 sales growth of 8.9%, outpacing growth in the American market. McDonald's is now one of the biggest private-sector employers on the continent, with a workforce approaching 300,000.
Even the harshest critics of McDonald's acknowledge that the burger company has its admirers. "French people are not against McDonald's. They are against the Bush administration," José Bové, the radical farmer and French presidential candidate, said in an interview.
Mr. Bové, who became a folk hero of the anti-globalization movement in 1999 when he and other protesters dismantled a McDonald's in the southern French town of Millau, said he doesn't personally know anybody who eats the food, which he calls la malbouffe, or junk food. He blamed the growth of McDonald's in his country on the incorrigible youth. "Maybe it's a new way of life. Maybe they believe this is modernity," he said.
To McDonald's executives, the triumph of the burger company in France and, increasingly, around Europe is not a paradox but the fruit of a grand strategy cooked up by a Frenchman named Denis Hennequin, a maverick in a company that made its fortune on standardization and duplication.
The idea of Mr. Hennequin, the first non-American to hold the job of president of McDonald's Europe since the company first arrived on the continent in 1971, was to re-imagine the entire McDonald's brand from a European perspective. It was an idea that was first received coolly by Oak Brook, Ill., executives, who now embrace Mr. Hennequin as a visionary.
"We truly became an international company," he said in an interview. "We were a global company, but I'm not sure we valued the experiences of other parts of the world. You can tell them yes, we are born in the USA, but we are made in France, made in Italy, made in Spain."
Mr. Hennequin, a compact man with a balding pate, wide eyes, and a prominent nose, embodies the concept. His hobbies are motorcycles and rock music. In his spare time, he and his wife and three children perform as a family band and play covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Rolling Stones. His corporate role model is Apple's Steve Jobs. His favorite sandwich is the Big Mac, which, like most Europeans, he eats without a drop of ketchup.
When McDonald's first arrived in Europe in the early 1970s, the selling point was America. The American fast food experience — cheap, quick, sanitary — was an exotic import. By the 1990s, the novelty wore off, while scares over mad cow disease, increasing concerns about fatty diets, and growing anti-American sentiment turned off customers. McDonald's was aggressively expanding but sales were sluggish.
Europe, Mr. Hennequin says, has a love-hate relationship with America. "The problem comes when we are perceived as imposing a model," he said. McDonald's, he figured, needed a new model.
After investing heavily in market research, Mr. Hennequin overhauled the whole operation, upgrading the décor, tweaking recipes, using more organic ingredients, providing nutrition labeling, and countering criticism from Mr. Bové and others by opening its restaurants to scrutiny.
For an American observer, the most striking change is the design. The red and yellow kiddy template has been supplanted by more mature colors. Outside signage in urban areas is more discreet and blends into the neighborhood. Restaurants now have leather upholstery seating and some have gas fireplaces, candles, and hardwood floors. McDonald's has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to "re-image" about a third of its more than 6,300 restaurants in Europe and 70% of its branches in France.
"Brand expression is in the store more than anything else," Mr. Hennequin said. "McDonald's has ignored for too long the restaurant. When you enter the restaurant, you enter the brand."
Mr. Hennequin created a "design studio," overseen by architect Philippe Avanzi, which offers franchise owners a choice of 10 schemes. Each scheme is christened with a lofty name like "Eternity," which feature straight wall patterns inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, and "Origins," favored by operators in scenic and rustic settings. "Origins" is supposed to reproduce the ambience of a cozy chalet, with wrought-iron chandeliers and rough stone interior walls.
In a remodeled McDonald's in the shopping mall in La Défense business district, the walls are decorated with giant images of lettuce and actual beef grinders and other kitchen utensils, solemnly framed as if they belonged in a museum. Nutritional messages scroll along a teleprompter installed above large round benches wrapped in coffee- and vanilla-colored upholstery. Ronald McDonald is nowhere in sight.
Even the McDonald's play areas, called "Ronald Gym Club," have been given a face-lift and are now being equipped with bicycle simulators, basketball hoops with electronic scoreboards, and intricate obstacle courses.
"If you have the right surroundings, suddenly everything is upgraded," Mr. Hennequin said.
The food is still American but with European characteristics. The anchors of the menu, the French fries and one-tenth-of-a-pound hamburgers, taste almost the same as they do in America. McDonald's performs the same "sensory evaluations" on its food supplies as it does across the Atlantic. Buns, for example, are tested for "crown-seed coverage," "heel color," and shape and symmetry. But McDonald's is adding more and more "locally relevant" sandwiches and snacks.
In the United Kingdom, the company is introducing a hamburger called the "Limited Edition Deluxe" with bacon, served on a ciabatta roll, with "mature" cheddar, Batavia lettuce, grilled onions, tangy tomato relish, and garlic mayonnaise. "It's a much more complicated burger," said Chris Young, who showcased the company's summer European menu in a 12-course tasting meal for reporters last week at McDonald's modernist Germany head office in an upscale suburb of Munich.
In France, McDonald's is rolling out le p'tit moutarde, a smaller-sized hamburger on a ciabatta roll smothered with a "sophisticated" mustard sauce. To suit European tastes, the chicken filets in the European sandwiches have a "grilled profile," instead of the more American "roasted profile," Mr. Young said.
The expanding Starbucks-like McCafés, which are constructed inside the regular units and aimed at Europe's aging population, serve lemon tartelettes (a little pie dessert), flan nature (a custard dessert), and cappuccinos poured in ceramic mugs.
The result of all of these changes is that Europeans who eat at McDonald's have stopped associating the restaurant with America — just the way American consumers no longer have France in mind when they eat a cup of Dannon yogurt.
"The food is American, but if you say, ‘McDonald's,' I don't think America," said Jan Bastel, a 16-year-old German student eating at a refurbished McDonald's in Munich.
The branch occupies the first three floors of a neo-baroque building in front of a modern fountain in the middle of Karlsplatz, the historic old city entrance where hordes of shoppers, commuters, and tourists converge. It's busier than any McDonald's in America.
The whole place has an international feel. Green and yellow balloons festoon the spacious entranceways, which are decorated with white McDonald's signs in Arabic, Japanese, Russian, English, and German. Behind the counter, more than a dozen McDonald's employees ring up 9,000 customers a day from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m., serving them items like "Los Scharfos," a fried snack made with gooey cottage cheese and jalapenos, and "El Pikante," an oval beef patty in a pita dressed in picante sauce, and a "big bacon" burger topped with jalapenos. (McDonald's executives say Germans are fascinated by Mexican culture and love spicy foods, thus the jalapenos.)
On a recent afternoon, a middle-aged civil servant quietly ate a Filet O-Fish and sipped on a Coke during a 20-minute work break. On the second floor, a father was treating his son to chicken nuggets for his 12th birthday. On the third floor, two teenage girls sat on cushy armchairs and snacked on a hamburger and a chicken sandwich.
Around them, McDonald's employees from Afghanistan, Turkey, Bulgaria, and China swept and mopped the floors, while a Field Mob hip-hop video on a flat-screen television embedded in the wall provided the soundtrack. Music is a running motif in the restaurant, which is decorated with wall prints of David Bowie and jazz musicians and is equipped with teenager-targeted video kiosks for downloading music and burning CDs.
Mr. Hennequin anticipates that the new European McDonald's experience will become increasingly common in America. "The U.S. is kind of using us as a guinea pig," he said.
Already Oak Brook executives have borrowed a number of Mr. Hennequin's ideas. McDonald's in America has launched its own redesign plan for many of its franchises and has adopted his "open doors" policy of inviting customers to take tours of franchise kitchens and meet executives and suppliers. Mr. Hennequin started the policy after Mr. Bové destroyed the McDonald's eight years ago.
American executives have also taken notice of the more direct European style of message communication. For instance, McDonald's Europe launched a poster campaign at its United Kingdom outlets that sought to raise the commonly low opinion of a McDonald's entry-level job. "Over half of our executive team started in our restaurants. Not bad for a McJob," the posters said.
Mr. Hennequin has attracted criticism for his McPassport initiative, which allows employees to transfer to any restaurant in the European Union, with some accusing him of trying to make it easier for Western European managers to hire cheap labor. Mr. Hennequin said the policy responded to the wanderlust of younger employees.
"There is a tremendous amount of creative thinking that takes place in Europe and our system has benefited from it," Jack Daly, a spokesman for McDonald's, said.
Mr. Hennequin, who is in the running to someday succeed James Skinner and become McDonald's first CEO from Europe, has already envisioned what he could do for McDonald's in New York City.
"In New York, we have to change the image and design of the restaurants. I think the European design would fit very nicely in a city like New York," he said.
samedi, juillet 14, 2007
In honor of le quatorze, aka Bastille Day, here's an article about how the French are changing McDonald's worldwide.