December 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
It’s that holiday time of the year, which means lots of traveling and probably some quick meals along the way. If you’re wanting to up your grabbing-a-bite-to-eat game, take a look at Business Insider‘s list of the top 25 US limited-service restaurant chains, published earlier this year. Below are the ten restaurants with the highest customer-satisfaction scores. (By the way, if you’re wondering, “limited service” means pay before you eat and includes fast food and fast casual.)
- Firehouse Subs
- Papa Murphy’s Pizza
- Ben & Jerry’s
- In-N-Out Burger
- Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
- Krespy Kreme
- Jersey Mike’s Subs
- The Habit Burger Grill
I guess you could say this is a pretty congenial group of eateries—offering good food at a good price with good service—but if you want to know just how friendly the American food-distribution scene is, you need to look at it from an outsider’s point of view. In his book End of the Spear, Steve Saint tells about his friend Mincaye’s first trip to the States. Mincaye is from Ecuador, a member of the isolated Waodani (Waorani, Huaorani) tribe.
After he and Steve return to Ecuador, Mincaye describes grocery stores to members of his village. To him, “food houses” are wondrous places with endless amounts of food (people take it out but no one brings it in), and taking it out is oh so easy:
The only thing you have to do is when you are leaving, you have to go by the place where the young foreigner girls stand. They look at you very seriously. But if you just stand there and smile, when they smile back, you can take all your food and go eat it happily.
At this point, Steve corrects Mincaye’s story by explaining that the food needs to be paid for and shows the group a credit card.
“Don’t worry,” Mincaye explains. ” They just give that thing right back to you, and then you can go and eat all your food!”
But someone wants to know how food can be gotten when you’re out driving and not close to a food house. Mincaye knows the answer. That’s not a problem for Babae, as he calls Steve:
Babae has friends everywhere. Whenever we are away from the big, big food house and my stomach hurts, telling Babae, he just stops at one of his friend’s houses. They open the little windows in their walls and hand us food. Those people really like Babae, just like we do.
I really feel special now. I guess those people really like me, too!
(I’ve written about Steve and Mincaye before, but if you’d like to know their full stories, read Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor and Saint’s End of the Spear, or watch the movie of the same name.)
(Emmie Martin, Tanza Loudenback, and Alexa Pipia, “The 25 Best Fast-Food Chains in America,” Business Insider, May 9, 2016; Steve Saint, End of the Spear, Tyndale, 2005)
[photo: “Service with a Smile,” by Broken Piggy Bank, used under a Creative Commons license]
May 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
Growing up on a farm, we didn’t eat out much, but I seem to remember enjoying a few Quarter Pounders with fries during my high-school days.
Then, during my time as a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, my go-to lunch was a salad with a side of fries at the basement McDonald’s on Lowery Mall, across from the library. When I took my daughter for a campus visit to MU a few weeks ago, our student tour guide (who did an excellent job, I might add) pointed out where the McDonald’s used to be. He said at one time it was the highest-grossing McDonald’s location in the US. In the 80s, when I was there, we heard it was the busiest McDonald’s in the world. I think both statements are part of a Columbia urban legend—though I’d love someone to prove me wrong with some documentation.
When my family lived in Taiwan, we found McDonald’s in every city. That was especially welcome when we first arrived and couldn’t speak Chinese. It’s a lot easier to ask for a “Number 5” than to learn the vocabulary for ordering à la carte.
McDonald’s was popular with the locals, too, especially high school kids. It was common to see them gather there to study or work on class projects. It was a new experience for us to see young people in that group-centered culture pour all their french fries into a pile and share them together.
McDonald’s certainly is a global juggernaut. According to the company website, their more than 33,000 restaurants in over 100 countries serve over 69 million people each day. But there’s more to McDonald’s than just huge numbers. In honor of the chain’s 75th anniversary this year, Reader’s Digest ran a list of “75 Mind-blowing Facts.” Here are my favorites:
#2. The first McDonald’s drive-thru—in Sierra Vista, Arizona—didn’t open until 1975.
#22-22. French fries, McDonald’s best-selling item, were added to the menu in 1949. Before that, it was potato chips.
#50. As the result of a 1973 lawsuit, McDonald’s paid Sid and Marty Kroftt $1 million because the brothers claimed that McDonaldland had stolen the “concept and feel” of their Saturday-morning TV show H.R. Pufnstuf. (Remember that one?)
#58. Giving away (selling?) 1.5 billion toys each year in its Happy Meals makes McDonalds’ the largest distributer of toys in the world. (OK, that’s one of those “huge numbers.”)
#60. One out of every eight workers in the U.S. has at some time had a job at McDonald’s.
#66. Have you heard of the “Big Mac Index”? It was developed by The Economist in 1986 to use the local cost of a Big Mac to compare economies around the world.
I used to tell my Asian college-age friends that I don’t actually like McDonald’s, that most people in the US don’t actually like McDonald’s. But here’s what happens: You’re in a van with a bunch of young people on a trip and you ask them where they want to stop and eat and they say “Anywhere but McDonald’s” and they name other possibilities but when you exit the highway you don’t see any of the places they suggested and you’re running out of time and you decide to eat at the next place you see and—guess what?—it’s a McDonald’s. There’s always a McDonald’s close by, so that’s where you stop. It’s just too convenient.
This guy notwithstanding, McDonald’s burgers don’t garner much praise. In fact, when readers of Consumer Reports rated the hamburgers of 21 fast-food chains, they put the ones from McDonald’s dead last. The magazine called them a “Mc-disappointment.” When our local McDonald’s in Taipei ran out of hamburgers one day (I kid you not), maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
But there are those “world-famous fries.” McDonald’s calls them “golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.” I don’t disagree. And a whole lot of other people seem to be on board, as well.
Mark Eichenlaub, a
and came up with the figure “4 trillion, give or take a few.” I have a hard time following his detailed explanation (he lost me when I saw that squiggly S-thing before the numbers), but I’m pretty sure his estimate doesn’t even count fries sold outside the US.
Of course, McDonald’s gets knocked for a lot of things besides what’s on their menu. For instance, right now they’re the target of protests over low wages. Sometimes their negatives are symptomatic of the ills of American culture, but they’re magnified with McDonald’s because of the franchise’s large scale. And abroad, their ubiquity and visibility often make them a symbol of Western encroachment.
McDonald’s does give us plenty of reasons not to be “Lovin’ it.”
But again . . . there are those fries.
My second oldest son graduated from university last week. He drove about seven hours round trip to pick up my mother so she could attend the ceremony. The next day I took her back home, with an extra hour added on each way. After I dropped her off, she was worried that I’d fall asleep on the way back, but I told her I’d pull over and rest if I got tired.
A couple hours from home, in Lebanon, MO, I decided to stop and get something to eat. I parked at a McDonald’s, to go inside and stretch my legs and to use the free wifi. That and I got an order of fries.
The lady at the counter greeted me with “Welcome back.” How many businesses can say that to every customer and rarely, if ever, be wrong?
Sounds like framily. And when I say “framily,” I’m thinking of the Sprint commercials with their odd collection of characters—Ronald McDonald, Grimace, Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Captain Crook and the rest of the citizens of McDonaldland. It’s an imperfect, dysfunctional framily at times, but it’s still framily.
In the Lebanon McDonald’s, the fries were good, as they nearly always are.
There’s something to be said about consistency. And there’s something to be said about always being close by.
(Daryl Chen and Brooke Wanser, “75 Mind-Blowing Facts about McDonald’s to Celebrate Its 75th Anniversary,” Reader’s Digest; “Best and Worst Fast-Food Restaurants in America,” Consumer Reports, July 2014; Mark Eichenlaub, “How Many Fries Has McDonald’s Served?” Quora)
[photos: “McDonald’s,” by Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons license; “4 Combos Fries Mix,” by Shippou, used under a Creative Commons license; “plexi • burger.dude,” by Don Shall, used under a Creative Commons license]
April 5, 2013 § 7 Comments
You already know that McDonald’s is the global king of fast-food success, but do you know which US chains are next in line outside of America’s borders?
Well, the answer depends on how you define success. If overall non-US sales is important to you, then number two is KFC, followed by Burger King (according to figures from 2011).
But if you’re more of a How-many-international-restaurants-do-they-have? kind of person, then Subway comes after the Golden Arches and KFC.
Or maybe you care about who’s expanding the most. In that measurement, McDonald’s isn’t in the top five. The three American companies that opened the most non-US units—from 2009 to 2010—are Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, and KFC.
All this information comes from QSR‘s “Global 30,” a sortable list ranking the top American “quick-service” restaurants outside the US.
Below are the ten American chains with the most restaurants outside the US. That’s the list I’m most interested in, since that gauges your chance of running into one of them overseas. Most are in Taiwan, so I’m adding embellishments from my experiences during my time in Taipei. We had more than our fair share of American fast-food outlets in the capital city, but there were still some gaps. I mean, how can a city of 6 million be Taco Bell-less?
- McDonald’s – 18,710 units
When we first arrived, we didn’t have the vocabulary to order individual items, so we just ordered meals by number. This meant a soda for even our smallest child, and we had four children. One day I walked up three flights of stairs (most McDonald’s in Taiwan are vertical) balancing 6 Cokes on a tray. I was pretty proud that I’d made it and pretended to stumble when I got to our table . . . and spilled the whole tray. . . . On another day we went to our local McD’s to find out that they’d run out of hamburger. I didn’t know that was possible.
- KFC – 11,798
The extra crispy chicken at Taiwan’s KFCs is spicy hot, which we grew to like more than its American counterpart. And because the Taiwanese like dark meat better than white meat, when we ordered a bucket of chicken, we could substitute white for dark at no extra cost. One negative is that their KFCs don’t have slaw. I love KFC’s slaw.
- Subway – 10,109
You could almost replace your vegetable-vocabulary unit in language learning with several trips to Subway. If you want the right toppings on your sandwich, you simply have to learn the words. Pointing at “that green thing” won’t do. Building a sandwich at Subway is like a chapter test. . . . By the way, a Subway near us in Taipei also ran out of meat. For a few days it was a salad shop.
- Pizza Hut – 5,890
We had a Pizza Hut around the corner from our last apartment in Taiwan. Loved their pepperoni pizza. Not so crazy about toppings with peas or corn . . . or squid . . . or tuna.
- Starbucks – 5,727
Most of what I have to say about Starbucks I’ve already said here. The chain has made a big enough impact on the tea-drinking island of Taiwan that several coffee shops have sprung up with circular green logos and/or copycat names (ecoffee, for example). My favorite was the shop that had a sign that said, in a small font, something like, “We’re Not,” over the very large, “STARBUCKS.”
- Burger King – 4,998
For a while, my absolute favorite sandwich was a bacon cheeseburger from the Burger King in Keelung next to the train station, eaten on the train as I and a teammate rode back to Taipei after our evening Bible studies with students at the National Taiwan Oceanic University. My second favorite sandwich near the station was a da chang bao xiao chang, or “big sausage wrapped around a small sausage” (the outer “sausage” was made from sticky rice).
- Domino’s – 4,422
After serving for two years as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, Scott Oelkers returned to Minnesota and double majored in Chinese and economics. Following his graduation, he got a job as a buyer for Domino’s Pizza International and worked his way up to vice president. He sold franchise rights in Taiwan to a private equity firm, and the firm asked him to run the business for them. He did, and in the process became a minor celebrity in Taiwan with his humorous TV commercials. Now Oelkers is president and CEO of Domino’s in Japan. He’s still making commercials, like the one below that just came out last month. Betsy Isaacson of the Huffington Post calls it “the most awkward ad in the universe.” I guess one man’s awkward is another man’s profitable.
- Dunkin’ Donuts – 3,005
When the first Mister Donut opened in Taipei in 2004, the lines were so long that there was a sign a ways back on the sidewalk that read, “240 minutes from this point.” Dunkin’ Donuts came not long after, and we were glad to see one open in our neighborhood. We held our team meetings there for a while because we usually had the upstairs mostly to ourselves. Not a good sign. It closed.
- Dairy Queen – 802
There’s no DQ in Taiwan that I know of (and we usually heard about those kind of things). I do see from an article in Taiwan Today that one was slated for opening in 1986 “located near Church’s Texas Fried Chicken and Lotteria in Taipei.” Someone else with a longer history in Taiwan would have to say whether it ever opened its doors.
- Papa John’s – 755
We’re getting farther down on the list, and neither is there a Papa John’s in Taiwan. But that doesn’t mean there’s not room for another pizza franchise, or room for some other kind of fast-food chain. The question is, which one should it be? . . .
For those of you living outside the US, are there any restaurants that you long for? For you American expats, what tastes do you miss, and what do you think would go over well among the locals?
Wendy’s? It comes in at number 11. Taipei used to have at least one. I’ve heard stories from my former coworkers, and a Taipei Wendy’s is even the setting for a short scene in Ang Lee’s 1994 movie, Eat Drink Man Woman.
Or how about Long John Silver’s? It didn’t make the Global 30. One came to Taipei for a short time. We ate there a couple times just to try it out. As I recall, it didn’t last more than a year.
Oh, yeah. There’s Taco Bell (#19). Why can’t you find more Taco Bell’s overseas? I can’t count how many times I heard American expats say that when they get back home the first thing they want to do is eat at a Taco Bell.
I asked a good Taiwanese friend—who had studied at a US university—if he thought Taco Bell would do well in Taiwan. He wasn’t sure that it would, as Mexican flavors don’t always fit the Asian palate. Then I asked him about Arby’s (#21). It seems to me that roast-beef sandwiches could fit in in a lot of cultures, and I like them a lot, too. He said, no, that he didn’t think that there would be enough room for parking. That seemed strange since most fast-food restaurants in Taiwan don’t have any dedicated parking at all. When I questioned that, he said that Arby’s are just too big for Taiwanese. I was confused. Were we talking about the same thing? They’re too big, he said again. Who in Taipei would have room to park an RV?
Hmmmm. Maybe our miscommunication has birthed an idea. How about setting up a fleet of mobile Arby’s in RVs around the globe. I wonder. . . .
(“The Global 30,” QSR Magazine, April 30, 2013; “Scott Oelkers: Bringing Something Extra to the Table,” College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota; “Personality, Pizzaz Mixes with Pizza,” Taipei Times, September 9, 2002; Ashley Chang, Tiffany Huang, and Alan Wu, “Mister Donut—Worth the Wait?” Centered on Taipei, December 2004/January 2005; Betsy Isaacson, “Domino’s Ad Featuring Japanese Computer-Generated ‘Vocaloid’ Hatsune Miku Is Incredibly Awkward,” March 8, 2013; “Dairy Queen Joins American Parade of Food Chains to ROC,” Taiwan Today, December 29, 1986)