Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
THERE ARE THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF
FOOD BLOGS, BUT ONLY ONE CULINARY NO-
During the 1970’s it was a television tradition across America on Tuesday nights.
Cool, leather-clad Arthur Fonzarelli (Fonzie) and an ensemble cast drew millions of viewers to a program based in Milwaukee in the 50’s and 60’s. The show debuted 40 years ago, on January 15, 1974. Before long, it topped the ratings, on its way to becoming a classic.
And then something strange happened.
Despite remaining on top of the television hill, the quality of Happy Days episodes was never the same, especially when Ron Howard left the show in 1980. A phrase for the decline of an artist or work was born: Jumping the shark.
As a young boy, maybe 6 or 7, I recall hamburger joints like the one frequented by Richie and Potsie and Ralph in Happy Days. That included McDonald’s.
Dad would pull into the parking lot with the family Buick and it as up to Mom to head to the window (no drive-thru then) and place the orders. We’d then eat burgers and fries in our car. There was something indescribable about this simple but cool late-night snack.
A few years later I’d ride my Raleigh bike with the banana seat to the Golden Arches, order a Big Mac, fries, and a soda and find an outdoor seat with change in my pocket from my $1 bill.
I’ve written before that I enjoy fast food. Still do. Generally when I head to McDonald’s or Burger King, et al, it’s not because I have a sudden urge for a Quarter Pounder. Not at all. It’s a matter of simplicity and convenience.
A few weeks ago, after working as a timer at some high school basketball games, I decided though fast food was not the best idea after 9:00 at night, I needed something because I hadn’t eaten since lunch. To McDonald’s I went.
The dollar menu awaited. One McChicken. One McDouble. Why not, I thought. I don’t engage in this unhealthy habit all that often. And gosh darn it I was hungry.
My order was to go and I dove in at home almost immediately after my coat was off.
First, the McChicken. Nice mayo. Just enough heat. Satisfying.
Next, the McDouble, a double cheeseburger. I know the size of an average McDonald’s hamburger has shrunk like something from a “B” science fiction movie in the 1950’s. Not a problem. I’ve got two patties and all the condiments and I’ll be good and sated.
And then, I was no longer simply satisfied. This wasn’t good. The burgers, yes tiny in nature, failed. There was not even a glimmer of taste. At the risk of exaggeration, McDonald’s weak attempt at beef was akin to saw dust in a bun drenched in ketchup. Prior to that night I was able to stomach anything in a wrapper from the place that has sold billion and billions. Not this time.
Sad because I had textbook stellar service from a young man who dropped his mop while cleaning the floors and took my order since no one was at the counter to greet me. He should have been videotaped and shown to all McDonald’s employees in training, he was that good.
I don’t blame him for the Brand X burgers I got in my bag. As I ate with great disappointment I told myself that from now on I’d stick to breakfast and chicken sandwiches (McDonald’s did away with those nice Angus burgers) and never, ever, eat one of their hamburgers ever again.
For me, after 50 years, the McDonald’s burger had jumped the shark.
A few days after that experience I was surprised to see this headline on a business website:
Is McDonald's doomed?
CNN Money surmises that McDonald’s own top brass is worried that the fast food giant is no longer relevant. Its troubles begin with the menu. New Items haven’t caught on whereas new offerings are popular at other competitors like Wendy’s. And there are scores of chains that offer much beefier burgers.
McDonald’s has also become a victim of its own success, its own mammoth success. Growth can only grow so much within such an empire.
Rebounding won’t be easy for McDonald’s, as CNN Money lays out their challenge:
“There are just too many options these days for consumers -- even those who want a quick and relatively cheap meal.”
Following the night I swore I was writing off McDonald’s burgers I found myself on the road home again one night in search of fast food. My path led me to Wendy’s. I opted for a double cheeseburger and chili. The friendly woman who took my order asked me if I wanted extra ingredients in my chili, an item I could never place at McDonald’s. I said yes to cheese and onions but no to sour cream.
Just as CNN Money referred to Wendy’s growing pattern, CBS reported Wendy’s is running circles around McDonald’s. How? With a simple two-headed approach: “a broad value menu combined with premium promotions.”
No one's going to unseat McDonald's from their throne. But whoever thought we’d be reading stories that McDonald's is seriously concerned about whether they still matter.
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