Big Mac Strikes Back

Burger bashers, watch out! McDonald's is on a roll

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Nutritionists still say the burger chain should offer a much more balanced menu because of the burgeoning amount of fast food that Americans now eat. Annual per capita french-fry consumption alone, for example, has increased from 2 lbs. in 1960 to 14 lbs. in 1984, according to Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Jacobson, the Ralph Nader of the fast-food industry, thinks McDonald's ought to offer some broiled food instead of fried, and points out that the company has been slow to offer such low-fat fare as baked potatoes and salad bars. But McDonald's is finally starting to cater to the salad set. Right now the company is testing prepackaged, freshly assembled salads in about 40% of its U.S. outlets. The flavors: chef's, shrimp, garden or chicken oriental.

Only a few years ago, the popular wisdom among fast-food analysts was that McDonald's growth would have to slow down because it had already built an outlet in nearly every feasible location. Since then, though, McDonald's has expanded far beyond its traditional base in the suburbs. The company has built more than 50 outlets on U.S. military bases, five on university campuses and one at a public zoo. At St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, where a McDonald's outlet has replaced the coffee shop, doctors and nurses line up for burgers between rounds. The company has even developed a McDonald's small enough to fit in virtual cracks in the wall: McSnack. These tiny stands, three so far, have been installed in locations too cramped for a regular McDonald's, and offer shortened menus and limited seating.

Another potential impediment to McDonald's growth was the resistance of neighbors. Residents of elite communities, among them Martha's Vineyard and Manhattan's Upper East Side, staged bitter fights to block the building of local McDonald's outlets. Stung by such criticism, McDonald's has tried to make its presence more welcome in recent years by toning down its garish yellow arches and designing restaurants that insinuate themselves into the neighborhood. On the Mississippi River in St. Louis, a McDonald's is housed in a floating reproduction of an 1880s side-wheeler, complete with brass-trimmed chandeliers.

While McDonald's once avoided inner-city neighborhoods, it now pushes into depressed areas where some other nationwide chains would fear to make any investment. Says Company President Quinlan: "Often we're the only bright, shiny thing around. Sometimes we're even the showcase." A total of some 650, or 9%, of McDonald's U.S. outlets are owned by blacks and Hispanics; to boost that average, 45% of potential owners currently in training are members of minority groups.

McDonald's next frontier is the rest of the world, where it has already * made considerable progress. The company boasts some 2,140 foreign outlets in 42 different countries ranging from Nicaragua to the Netherlands. Today the golden arches grace some of Europe's most expensive real estate: next to Westminster Cathedral in London, on the corner of the Boulevards St. Michel and St. Germain in Paris, and opposite Parliament in the Hague. The biggest Mac branch of all, with 575 restaurants, is in Japan, where the company is known as Makudonarudo, or Makku-san for short.

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