Lard is up there with cocaine

After 2 bus rides, we arrived an hour into the suburbs of Rome only to find the familiar golden arches amidst rare open fields. The concept of fast hot food started when young men returned from the war and needed a way to earn some extra cash. Now, McDonalds makes about 40 billion dollars a year. McDonalds started in San Bernadino, California in the ’50s by two brothers who began by selling only burgers, cheeseburgers, milkshakes, root beer, and fries. Decades later, we walked into a McDonalds and were served with an array of breakfast McMuffins, french fries, fresh squeezed orange juice, cappuccinos, and berry smoothies on the house for a little taste of home. Lizzie even exclaimed “this is a dream come true.”

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Today, we had the privilege of meeting Charles, a former biochemistry professor who took a leap of faith and followed his wife to Italy to become a four restaurant franchise owner of McDonalds. McDonalds arrived in Italy in the mid-80s and has grown to 490 restaurants. It has since expanded to reach 110 countries around the world. Charles talked about the corporation’s success as being attributed to the concept of franchising. Franchising allows locals to operate their own restaurants while still adhering to the brand’s standards allowing McDonalds to gain the trust of people around the world. Charles called this “glocalization” – the increasing presence of McDonalds restaurants around the world is an example of globalization, however catering to an Italian palate is an example of glocalization to meet the demands of the local consumers. In Italy, for example, McDonalds uses leaner meat than the burger meat in American McDonalds restaurants.

With 40% of Italians saying they will not eat at a McDonalds (compared to 5% of Americans), public and community relations are an important aspect of running the business. Charles explained that “when you get to these big multinational companies, what they really care about is their image.” People choose to eat at McDonalds over somewhere else because of it’s reputation, it’s brand, and what the golden arches stand for. McDonalds got in trouble for using meat flavoring in their fries years ago, and responded how the PR pros are taught to do, they apologized. But, Charles confessed that back in the 70s, their fries were fried in lard, and although apparently a feast so delicious he still drools talking about it, “now lard is up there with cocaine.” Rest assured, McDonalds is still tasty and little better for your heart. They even have salads!

Charles highlighted the fact that there are two areas where McDonalds gets criticized the most: food safety and labor relations. Walking into this McDonalds, the employees seemed peppy as ever, with one of the workers flipping burgers and singing all the while in the kitchen. And it’s no wonder… Apparently all jobs in Italy are salaried with benefits. That’s right, there are ZERO hourly jobs. So part-time and full-time workers alike get 6 weeks of paid vacation, up to 6 months of partially paid sick leave, and 14 paychecks a year (with an extra during Christmas time and one during summer). For pregnant women, there is an obligatory 3 month paid maternity leave and an optional 6 months following that with another 6 months paid leave spread out during the child’s early years. AND before the child’s birth, maternity can be treated as a sickness. One of Charles’ employees has only worked 2 days in the past 15 years, and still continues to get paid by McDonalds. Crazy, I know. “Not bad for a McJob.”

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