I eat at McDonald’s about once a week. I was there again last Thursday, on Soldiers Field Road, ordering my beloved bacon ranch salad with crispy chicken. I like this location, because the Wi-Fi is OK, and they have the Globe and the Herald hanging from old-fashioned reading sticks, over to the left of the sodas.
I eat there for the portion control, and I suppose to put some greens into my system. I could save myself 540 calories if I didn’t order the ranch dressing and the crispy chicken, which are just glorified McNuggets strips. (“No pink slime added,” the McDonald’s website tells me, reassuringly.)
It’s not what you would call fine dining. When I was there, only one of the TVs was working, pulling in a grainy picture from WMUR-9 in Manchester, N.H. A group of old Russian ladies in wheelchairs occupied a line of tables, but there were still plenty of seats.
McDonald’s is in trouble — can you imagine? Sales and profits are plummeting, and the company’s desperate menu-tinkering availeth them naught. People want to eat at places like Five Guys (ugh), Chipotle (not so ugh; once owned by McDonald’s, ironically), Shake Shack (triple ugh) and so on.
To tell the truth, I feel a little sorry for them.
Whenever the headline harpies want to stage a shakedown, they inevitably target McDonald’s. Raise the minimum wage? Let’s shame McDonald’s, as if it’s the only corporation in America euchering its workers. When Vladimir Putin wants to lash out at the United States, he starts closing down their Russian locations on trumped-up charges of “health violations.” (French farmers protesting globalization similarly targeted McDonald’s in the late 1990s.)
McDonald’s is too often simply the large, convenient target of choice.
You don’t believe me? In 2013, the Wall Street Journal revealed that McDonald’s, bitterly stung by the questionable health claims of the 2004 documentary “Supersize Me,” “abandoned supersize portions, rolled out oatmeal and smoothies, and added apples to all its Happy Meals.” In addition, “it said it would begin offering customers a choice of side salad, fruit, or vegetable in place of fries in its value meals.”
All these Potemkin health foods didn’t sell very well, the Journal reported. Foodies loved that McDonald’s added fruit and walnut salads to their menu, a healthful delicacy that had to be 86’ed because, according to one franchisee, “we were throwing away more than we were selling.”
While McDonald’s was fretting about negative publicity, its rivals were coining money serving delicacies such as Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos, at an enormous profit.
How pathetic has McDonald’s become? It’s been showing up at regional “chef events” with dishes such as gnocchi made from French fries, McNuggets-based kung pao chicken, and chicken-filled beignets, hoping for some love from foodie bloggers and the like. Oddly these McDelicacies seem not to have caught on.
McDonald’s has also posted a dizzying array of “Frequently Asked Questions” on its website that reveal just how low its self-esteem has sunk. Question: “Do your buns contain the same chemicals used to make yoga mats?” Answer: Um, yes.
Question: “Would you feed your food to your own family?” Answer: “Absolutely. We genuinely enjoy the food we make and are proud to have our families eat it too.”
I would feed their food to my family, but no one wants to eat it. Yes, McDonald’s is pathetic, and I feel a little sorry for them.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.