January 14, 2010

Living in a McDonaldized World

todd_sBy Todd Schoepflin, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Niagara University

tas@niagara.edu www.niagara.edu/sociology

 

I first read George Ritzer’s book The McDonaldization of Society in 1996, my first year of graduate school. I loved the book right away. It described perfectly the world I lived in, and still does. What was true in 1996 for me is even truer today. I am surrounded by fast-food establishments and other businesses that follow the McDonald’s model.

Our culture continues to value efficiency, predictability and quantity. Workers and consumers are controlled more than ever by technology. I am careful not to be hypocritical when it comes to this subject; I definitely take advantage of some conveniences that come with living in a McDonaldized world.

As I write this in Buffalo, New York, it is twenty degrees outside, so you better believe that I occasionally make use of a drive thru in order to get my morning coffee. And once in a blue moon it even comes from McDonald’s. I also go to McDonaldized places when it’s time for an oil change. Although I’d prefer to leave my car with a mechanic for a day, the convenience of stopping at Jiffy Lube or some other specialized auto service business is too easy to pass up. There’s one  place I go for an oil change where you don’t even leave your car! What’s more efficient than staying in your car while you get an oil change in ten minutes? But I try to patronize Mom and Pop businesses as often as possible. I’m always on the lookout for establishments that are creative, unique and interesting. Places where size and speed are not equated with quality.

It’s getting harder to find places that don’t follow the McDonald’s way of doing business where I live. That’s why it’s so special to me to spend time at places Marottosthat aren’t McDonaldized. One of my favorite examples is a restaurant near my house named Marotto’s. I don’t go often, just on special occasions, and my father is always with me when I go because it’s his favorite restaurant. Despite the fact that we aren’t regulars, we get the royal treatment whenever we go. Owner Mark Marotto always stops by our table to chat with us. Not only is he the owner but also the head chef! Aside from making time to visit every table, he brightens everyone’s experience by playing the harmonica. When my family recently dined there for my father’s birthday, he came out of the  kitchen to play “Happy Birthday” on the harmonica.

Such unique treatment brings a huge smile to my face (as you can see from the picture during one of our visits to Marotto’s…I’m the one with the big nose, glasses and oversized grin). If you want to see Mark in action, look at the story that a local news station did about him that’s posted on the restaurant's website. I just love the genuine feel of Mark playing the harmonica to entertain his customers.

Compare this to what happens when you enter a place like Moe’s Southwest Grill, a McDonaldized establishment in which workers shout “Welcome to Moe’s!” in unison when you enter. It seems to me that the workers half-heartedly shout this phrase because they are merely following a corporate script. It doesn’t feel real or authentic. While writing this I looked at their website and I immediately saw a graphic that said “Welcome to Moe’s, where size matters.” This was unsurprising because in a McDonaldized world, bigger is a promise of better.

It’s important to remember that the McDonaldization theory does not only apply to restaurants. Think of Christmas trees as another example. Buying a fake Trees_for_saletree from Home Depot is an example of McDonaldization (especially if you use the technology there to purchase the tree without any help from an employee). A fake tree is efficient because no messy pine needles fall to the floor and there’s no problem getting the box through the front door. But it sure is bland compared to buying a tree from a local family farm. I recognize that not everyone lives near a tree farm, but if you’re within reasonable driving distance of one, I highly recommend the experience.

This year my wife and I took our two-year-old son to a tree farm located forty minutes from our house. When we arrived they gave us a saw to cut down our tree. We walked a few hundred feet and found a beautiful tree. It took me a while to saw through the tree, and I almost gave up, but I persisted and was thrilled when I finally got the job done. A worker helped me get the tree on top of our car, and sort of helped me tie it down.

I say “sort of” because that’s where the adventure began. We drove off and made our way back to the highway, driving 60 miles per hour and hoping the tree was properly fastened. It wasn’t long before two young guys in a car drove past us laughing and pointing at us. Our worst fear was confirmed—the tree was sliding off the top of our car. We pulled off to the side of the road and did our best to reposition the tree and secure it with a bungee cord. As my wife and I worked on the task with cars zooming by us, our son was crying his eyes out. Maybe it was the loud sound of cars flying by or maybe he was scared of seeing his parents climbing around the car, struggling to tie down a tree. Either McDonaldizationway, we finally got the tree where we wanted it and eventually made our way home. We  shared a good laugh about our morning and I suggested we go to the tree farm every other year.

I’m not sure I can handle a day like that every year! But I think that experience embodied the spirit of doing things in a way that aren’t McDonaldized. Sure it’s easier to buy a tree from a store but it’s more fun and unpredictable to cut down your own tree. A common sight this time of year where I live is Christmas trees in a parking lot. You can park, pick out your tree, pay for it and be home in a matter of minutes. So you can even get a real tree in a McDonaldized way. I took a picture of one of these parking lots near my house, and from where I took the picture I also took a shot of a common McDonaldized scene: a Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins and Valvoline all situated on a corner lot.

I guess it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In other words, I don’t think one has to totally avoid a McDonaldized way of life. I think it’s about balance. Some encounters with McDonaldized places are inevitable in many of the places people live. My advice is to enjoy those places around you that offer something different. Sameness is comforting but it’s also boring. As the saying goes, “variety is the spice of life.” I think that saying holds true when we spend time in a way that isn’t McDonaldized.

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Comments

I could not agree more, my wife and I try to never go to chain restaurants and instead go to local restaurants but it is becoming harder and harder as chain restaurants squeeze out local eateries. I often wish the chains would at least support local farmers or promote local specials but that is probaly too much to ask.

I completely agree with Dr. Schoepflin view on how everything in our world is becoming too fast paced and convenient! The one thing that I really love though are “U-Scans”. As long as you are in a line behind people that are competent in their ability to use the U-Scan and do not break the “10 items or less” rule, then I believe that these are one of the better creations in recent times. If I only have one item, then there is no reason for me to wait in a cashier’s line behind some lady buying enough cans of cat food to feed her cat for five consecutive years, that’s just insane! I occasionally (maybe once a month) get food from a drive-thru, but whenever my family “goes out” for dinner we always pick someplace where we can sit down, catch up, and just slow down for a couple of hours from our fast paced lives. I especially enjoy when the owner or manager of a restaurant comes to the table and asks you how everything (food, service, atmosphere) is. Those are some of my favorite times, so I hope that I’ll never see the end of restaurants with room for people to sit and eat.

McDonalds is one of the most succesfull fast food chains in our history.It's no wonder other businesses use McDonalds as inspiration and try to do things similiar to McDonalds ways. They see the success and longivity. I personally don't eat McDonalds but do see it as fast and convenient way to get lunch or dinner after busy day at work or school.

I agree our lives are becoming fast and fake. I personally try not to eat at fast food restaurants especially when I’m with friends. Ones you are done with your food they pretty much kick you out. No time to chat and catch up about life. I also wanted to point out the way we mail today. In earlier days we had to drive to the bank or write out a check, buy a stamp and an envelope. Now you get online, click a button and all your bills are paid. Sure that is very convenient and safe but also McDonaldized.

This article is very interesting. I never would have thought twice about how everything is becoming mcdonalized. I can relate that into a place i use to work at called Massage Envy. There you would get such a ( mcdonald) massage because its worked like a factory you get them in give them the massage and get them out and hope they get a membership so they come back at least 1 week. Its an affordable place for those that can not spend a lot of money . I really think that the reason everything is becoming fast and convient is because we are in such a crises when it comes to money. We are all hurting in some way and the more fast and convient places are much better in price. With that being said our obesity rates have gone through the roof. I will now for sure think twice when it comes to pick a place to go to get my oil changed to where to eat.

We are lucky to have mcdonald, they have a variety of food including veggies at a low price.it's up to us to balance up the food.we need to control what kids want to eat.you can avoid fast food but if you don't balance up what you cook you can be obese.I eat fast food the good amount and exercise.pick up the tree close to you,look at it,is it good?

On the issue of McDonaldized culture, we have come accustomed to the fast- food way of life. Almost, everyone is in a hurry and does not want to wait for anything. Our culture in the United States has lost a lot of family values, because of McDonalds influence on today’s society. There is so much competition to be the fastest and biggest. Our society needs to slow down and enjoy a quiet time with family and friends. I agree with Todd, it is getting harder to find a restaurant that is not like McDonalds. Most of the restaurants in my neighborhood that give slower service are not as busy as the fast food restaurants. Those restaurants have a hard time staying in business. This article has given me an appreciation for the non-fast food establishments around my neighborhood.

Unfortunately though, most of us need to employ economic rationality in our daily lives: costs are climbing, and in a world of climate change, power costs are set to skyrocket.

Macdonald's appears to offer convenience and value, and you know exactly how the food with taste. Though a macmeal - consisting of burger, fries and coke - is often not filling for an adult and they need to purchase more.

'Macdonaldisation' or economic/formal rationality seems more a method of convincing people they are getting more for less money. CLoser analysis often reveals the opposite.


I think this story can relate to anomies. The social condition of going to drive thrus, and other means of quick food, or other services really strains the wholesomeness off a family cooked meal, or a nice mom and pops restaurant. It really is a shame that there are not as many places who offer the family feeling of closeness and caring.

When I look at McDonald's, I always think about the movie we saw in our Sociology class, "Super Size Me". Fast foods are convenient for us when we are in hurry, but they do not provide us nutrient food.

i agree as well mcdonalds is every where . we use these drive throughs as nothing more than pit stops.so we can rush to our next destinations.

The best thing we can do is avoid these Mc Donald's types of establishments so that the small business America does not vanish to Wal-Mart, Starbucks and McDonalds. I have never shopped at a Wal-Mart, and as a vegetarian, I have never been to a Mc Donald's. I'm happy you avoid these places as well.

Perhaps the McDonaldization we see today is just the 21st century equivalent of bureaucratization of the 18 century. Simply put, the McDonald's way is the most effective and makes most money. That's why everything is moving to it.

McDonalds can be addictable, but only if that is all you know. If you never put something new on your taste buds they wont know anything different. It was until he and his dad went to that other resturant, that they realized McDonalods wasn't the only food, they should do that with other resturants to.

The modern McDonaldlization is conforming evry suburb and inner-city rehab project look at any metropolitan city and go to certain spots in that towns oops looks like home !!!. The creativity of of new thinking is challenging when everything is available at a snap, but created those moments or environments where free living is king , is truly euphoric.

I like to the local businesses and stay away from the corporate chains. The little restaurants have good food and always a friendly atmosphere. I like the hardware stores and stay away from the Lowes and Home Depot. I agree with this article. I like variety but also the sameness but you can get that from the local businesses as well. What a wonderful way to support each oher.

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