McDonald’s french fries wars; or, just because they’re old Asian men doesn’t mean they’re right

mcdonalds-french-friesThere was an interesting story in today’s New York Times (yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but still. . . .) about a war between a McDonald’s and some elderly Asian men.  The men want to treat the fast-food franchise like a fin de siècle Viennese coffee house, where one could buy cup for coffee and, by doing so, essentially rent a chair for a day. The McDonald’s ownership is hostile to this, saying that its business model isn’t built to accommodate daily chair rentals for $1.39 in french fries:

For the past several months, a number of elderly Korean patrons and this McDonald’s they frequent have been battling over the benches inside. The restaurant says the people who colonize the seats on a daily basis are quashing business, taking up tables for hours while splitting a small packet of French fries ($1.39); the group say they are customers and entitled to take their time. A lot of time.

“Do you think you can drink a large coffee within 20 minutes?” David Choi, 77, said. “No, it’s impossible.”

And though they have treated the corner restaurant as their own personal meeting place for more than five years, they say, the situation has escalated in recent months. The police said there had been four 911 calls since November requesting the removal of the entrenched older patrons. Officers have stopped in as frequently as three times a day while on patrol, according to the patrons, who sidle away only to boomerang right back. Medium cups of coffee ($1.09 each) have been spilled; harsh words have been exchanged. And still — proud, defiant and stuck in their ways — they file in each morning, staging a de facto sit-in amid the McNuggets.

I’m with McDonald’s on this one. Not only is it a fast food model, which by definition precludes linger, but as a business it still has the right to assert that an invitation to enter the business premises for the purpose of buying and consuming food cannot be construed as an invitation to buy minimal food and then occupy the premises indefinitely.  And it makes no difference that old Asian men can be seen as sympathetic characters.  This is a form of theft insofar as the men are wrongfully depriving the franchise of revenue.  Despite laws and court decisions mandating that Christians make gay wedding cakes or party balloons, the law probably hasn’t gone so far that it insists that a restaurant customer gets to dictate to the business how to manage its tables.

As for me, after having read the article, I’m really craving an order of McDonald’s Chicken Tenders (3 pieces), with a regular Coke, and a side of fries.  Yum.  Don Quixote and I used to have that about once a month, and I always enjoyed it tremendously.  As far as I’m concerned, there is not a single restaurant in Marin County (possibly in the whole Bay Area) that makes better french fries than McDonald’s does.

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  • mdgarnett

    This story reminded me of living in the UK between 1987 and 1990.  My wife had been diagnosed with MS in early 90 and the unusually hot weather that year meant she was really suffering.  We’d head from Chippenham where we lived to Swinden to camp out in an air conditioned McDonalds.  We knew we were exploiting their hospitality (there were even signs about loitering) but we watched the seating and if it started to get full, we’d leave.
    (only marginally related to the NYT story but it reminded me of my own lingering over an order of fries and an a pop.)

  • Kevin_B

    On a somewhat silly note, Bookworm…
    I would argue that French fries, while being the accepted term, is almost certainly a misnomer. The French did not come up with fries; they were invented in Belgium. Apart from the  question who invented fries, the real country of fries is Belgium.
    I haven’t been inside of a McDonald’s for years and haven’t had McDonald’s food for years – I remain distrustful McDonald’s (remember the recent kerfuffle about McDo’s recommendations to its own staff not to eat the hamburgers they sell?. Therefore I have no idea how good their fries are (or forhow dismal those of others in Marin County are). However, I am fairly certainly that the best French fries can probably be found in Belgium.
    We Belgians suck at a lot of things, but we can do chocolate and fries right. Maybe beer too, but as a teetotaler I wouldn’t know. 

    • Bookworm

      Kevin_B:  You reminded me of my grandmother, who was Belgian.  Whenever we children mentioned french fries, she’d invariably say, “The french stole them.  We Belgians invented them.”  Thanks for a lovely memory of happy childhood days.

      • Kevin_B

        You’re welcome, Bookworm. I didn’t know you had familial ties to Belgium.
        To be really honest – and to somewhat touch upon the political snake-pit that is Belgium – I don’t really have much of a connection to Belgium as such, but rather to the northern Dutch-speaking part, Flanders – I am a Flemish nationalist and I believe the country Belgium has mostly served its purpose. But I still feel pride for some of the things realized throughout the decades in Belgium as a whole.
        I don’t actually eat fries a lot and I rarely visit friteries – special restaurants that sell fries and other fried and fast foods – but I do like them occassionaly. For me too, they carry some childhood memories, although childhood for me isn’t nearly as far back as it is for you.  Back in the day, me and my brother spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents – we were in school in the village my grandparents lived in and they took care of us a lot during the week. It was a bit of a family tradition to have fries with ‘carbonade flamande’, a type of beef stew, on Fridays. I remember enjoying that and I still like stew. Also, my grandmother was a very good cook.  And I also remember having good times at my grandparent’s house. These memories are somewhat painful but also pleasantly nostalgic, as my maternal grandfather died on October 25th, 2013 at age 81. My grandmother is still alive, but she isn’t doing very well.

  • Ymarsakar

    There are other businesses that cater to this cafe style of meetings. Humans should solve their issues via the profit motive. When there is demand, there must also be someone willing to supply it. And if there is none… then the demand isn’t enough or the price isn’t high enough or the government kickbacks are too heavy.

  • Ymarsakar

    McDonalds is a franchise, thus their quality is mostly inherent upon individual owners and managers. For example, if you were to visit McDonalds in Japan… it might look like an entirely different franchise then.

  • expat

    Here in Germany fries are often eaten with mayo (there is even a squeeze tube of ketchup and mayo, called red white that seems to appeal to kids. Do the Belgians eat mayo with their fries?
    I actually enjoy visiting McDonalds here once in a while because it is full of people with kids. You rarely see children in other eateries. BTW, they are well behaved.

    • Kevin_B

      Here in Belgian eateries and friteries often have a wide variety of sauces, but mayo(naise) is certainly popular, so yes, Belgians eat mayo with their fries. I do, however, remember from being in Germany and eating fries (and fried fish) with mayo there, that the mayo produced and sold in Germany is a bit different in taste and color than the mayo we have here in Belgium. It could of course have been a local one-off event over there in Gelsenkirchen. 
      My experience is that McDonald’s, at least in Antwerp, where I used to go to university, is mainly popular with students and commuters looking for easy, fast and relatively cheap food. 

  • JKB

    In Seattle, they eat fries with tartar sauce, which probably is not from Tartary.  It’s good but a bit heavy for me.  Of late, when I have fries, I like them with Sriracha Lime Salt 

  • shirleyelizabeth

    Why don’t the guys go to Starbucks? Too trendy?
    After a particularly long and difficult (AZ meaning: sweaty) trail run, I crave MacDonalds fries and a soft serve cone. So satisfying. And I agree, they have the best. I will be forever heartbroken, though, that they stopped offering twist cones. As for dipping mayo, a bit north of me in Utah they’re really into their “fry sauce”, which is a mixture of mayo, ketchup, and I think a little hot sauce. It’s not bad, but I still think it’s weird.


    If the story had taken place in the UK the header would have read –
    McDonald’s: Chip off the Old Block
    Fries, I like them with honey, unless I’ve made my own with sweet potatoes, then the dipping sauce is a combo of; butter, brown sugar, sesame oil and ginger for dipping.

  • MacG

    “As far as I’m concerned, there is not a single restaurant in Marin County (possibly in the whole Bay Area) that makes better french fries than McDonald’s does”
    I am kind of partial to the sweet potato fries (Well done please) at Pacific Catch and second the sweet potato tater tots at “The Best Lil Pork House, like candy,,,

  • KellyM

    While I sympathize with the elderly men and their desire to have some place to hang out together, I’m with McDonalds on this one. The franchise should be able to conduct business on their own terms and have plenty of seating available. It’s off-putting to have patrons feel they’re interrupting some long standing kaffeeklatsch just to sit and have a quick bite. When I first heard the story I wondered if this was some passive-aggressive protest by these elders – have they worn out their welcome elsewhere? 
    I’m partial to their fries myself; I miss the beef tallow though. (!) I’ll pretty much dip them in anything – ketchup, mustard, tartar sauce – no preference. 
    Growing up in northern New England, it wasn’t unusual to see something called “gravy fries” on a menu. A takeoff on the Quebec favorite, poutine.

  • Charles Martel

    I like my fries with tartar sauce, too. If I’m at  fish place, I’ll set it aside for my fries even though it’s meant for the fish. I also like malt vinegar on my fries, a habit I picked up years ago when San Francisco had a couple of hole-in-the-wall fish and chips places.
    After the revolution, when the Americans have overthrown the federal government, we will return to sensible frying of fries in fat, the way God and George Washington intended.

  • Charles Martel

    A PS to what KellyM said. I first ran into poutine on a trip to Alberta in 2000. My wife couldn’t stand the stuff, but I did. It was just one of those unexplainable, seemingly icky combinations, like Dick Nixon’s cottage cheese and ketchup, that hits the spot.

  • Danny Lemieux

    …and we will call them “American Fries”, of course.