“If we are going to go anywhere, we’ve got to have talent. And, I’m going to put my money in talent.” – Ray Kroc, founder, McDonald’s
If you’ve ever worked in a fast food restaurant, especially any big chain fast food restaurant (and millions have, so the odds are good many people who read this will have done so), you remember the training: every action is done by a specific rule, and it must be done by that rule. Every. Single. Time.
There’s a reason for that. It’s called Hamburger University.
Milkshake mixer salesman Ray Kroc approached Richard and Maurice McDonald in 1954 with the idea of franchising their Southern California hamburger stands. His interest was to create a series of stores, tightly controlled (Kroc would allow franchisees to purchase only one store at a time which gave him a measure of control no their restaurant chain possessed) and modeled on his vision of “mechanized” food served efficiently, predictably, and calculably.
His plan succeeded beyond even his fondest dreams.
As a reminder, let us reiterate the four characteristics of McDonaldization:
- Efficiency – The optimum method of completing a task. The rational determination of the best mode of production. Individuality is not allowed.
- Calculability – Assessment of outcomes based on quantifiable rather than subjective criteria. In other words, quantity over quality. They sell the Big Mac, not the Good Mac.
- Predictability – The production process is organized to guarantee uniformity of product and standardized outcomes. All shopping malls begin to look the same and all highway exits have the same assortment of businesses.
- Control – The substitution of more predictable non-human labor for human labor, either through automation or the deskilling of the work force.
Ray Kroc’s achievement was to apply these guidelines to the operation of all the restaurants in his chain of franchises. The way he did that was to establish the aforementioned Hamburger University, a place where his vision of a chain of hamburger restaurants spread across America all serving identical menus prepared in identical ways by identically dressed employees following identical directions from managers trained in how to run each restaurant identically was taught in an atmosphere more akin to military boot camp than college campus. Predictability, calculability, efficiency – and control. Each of those terms has a special place in the McDonald’s mythology.
Efficiency – by limiting its menu (in its early years) to hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and fries, Kroc was able to develop the most efficient methods of preparing basic fare. As the market for fast food expanded and evolved, McDonald’s added items as his system determined the most efficient way to prepare and present them. Ever use the empty side of your Big Mac box as a tray for your fries? Efficiency….
Calculability – Kroc discovered it was easier to inventory burger wrappers and french fry bags than to account for burgers and fries themselves. McDonald’s, and eventually all the chains – once allowed employees free soda – but the employee had to provide the cup or be charged for the item.
Predictability – Kroc wanted a customer to be able to enter any of his chain’s restaurants confident he could get the same cheeseburger whether in Maine or California. Therefore, all McDonald’s stores had the same cooking equipment, the same preparation method, the same presentation, the same prices. His complaint was that locally owned burger joints were “unsavory” and even “unsafe” for families to dine in and that by standardizing the entire dining experience he was making hamburger eating safe for democracy… Ray Kroc, a family values kind of guy.
Control – Kroc obtained this by his “one franchise at a time” policy. Those wishing to join the McDonald’s “family” (one would not be amiss comparing Kroc’s “family” to certain other tightly run families collectively known as the Mafia) had to prove that they could operate their franchises in “the McDonald’s way” before they might be allowed to purchase more franchises. In this way Kroc maintained an enormous measure of control – and made sure his restaurants were/are operated according to the principles noted above.
To say that Kroc’s vision for American dining was a success is laughable understatement. His unparalleled success has made McDonald’s the envy of all budding restaurant tycoons and become the model for franchise lines – from direct competitors like Wendy’s (but…but…their hamburgers are square, you protest) to Starbucks (who have done to a good cup of joe what McDonald’s did to a good cheeseburger).
But what Kroc perhaps could never have envisioned was how his system of bureaucratization for food production might be adapted as corporatists and capitalists, fascinated by his business success, sought ways to make every field of human endeavor efficient, calculable, predictable, and controlled.
The ongoing attempted McDonaldization of fields such as medicine, education, and other humane professions never meant to be standardized ala Mickey D’s – and what that might be doing to us – will be the subject of part 4.
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