So the fastest man on earth ate a McDonald’s wrap before winning the men’s 100 metre final in London, as well as in Beijing. This wouldn’t impress Michelle Obama, who teased Gabby Douglas for setting back the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” initiative by eating in McDonald’s after her Olympic victory.
Mrs. Obama has her work cut out in persuading us all to ditch fast food. McDonald's has announced that sales in its four Olympic Park outlets exceeded expectations by more than 50% during the Olympics. By the end of the Paralympic Games, which is set to begin on August 29 and close on September 9, the chain expects to serve more than 1.75 million meals in these branches.
One of these branches is the world’s largest, and busiest, fast food restaurant. The 3,000 sq ft restaurant has 20 tills and serves up to 1,200 customers an hour, making it more than ten times busier than an average McDonald's. While there's some downtime between the close of the Olympic Games and opening of the Paralympics, during its six week run, this location is poised to sell a fair number of British staple chips (fries).
The world’s biggest fast food outlet
Before the Olympics, McDonald’s stated its intention to give visitors “the best possible customer experience in a great environment.” Is this possible in such a huge restaurant?
At lunchtime on its first day of trading, McDonald’s was doing what it does best – serving people quickly and courteously – but on a much bigger scale. At 12:45, customer queues stretched across the considerable floorspace – people were queuing for 15–20 minutes before placing their food order. By 1pm, the queues had doubled in length, stretching out the door. At the same time, nearby food stalls had no queues, or negligible ones.
Among the predominant family demographic, the appeal of McDonald’s was in its familiarity and treats. As had been widely publicized, McDonald’s was the only outlet in the park selling chips. Others came out of curiosity – there is a definite sense of occasion in visiting the world’s largest fast food restaurant, particularly as it is a temporary building. Despite the queues and rising temperatures in the building, the mood was very jovial, with people taking pictures and chatting animatedly.
Anyone coming near the restaurant is greeted by smiling, friendly staff who are having the time of their lives. One of these is Bernard, from Scunthorpe in the East Midlands, who enthused, “I absolutely love it; I'm thrilled to be here and am having the best time.” Aside from the atmosphere in the park, down-to-earth Bernard was enjoying staying in a “very posh” central London hotel.
All 1,800 restaurant staff at the Olympics have been handpicked for the event, based on customer recommendations and managers' feedback. This is a clever way to acknowledge and reward their best employees, while ensuring that customers receive the best service.
McDonald’s is also clever in its situation and its offer. The largest branch is right next to the Olympic Stadium, London 2012 Megastore and the main park restrooms – all magnets for visitors. It has an upstairs terrace with the best views of the Olympic Park, apart from the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower, which charges a hefty entrance fee. And the extensive outdoor patio seating is well-placed for diners to make the most of the atmosphere in the park, whatever the weather.
Green restaurant for the green games
In some ways this branch doesn’t feel like a McDonald’s – it is airy, largely wooden with natural lighting, and surrounded by banks of wildflowers. Frequent diners may quibble at the slimmed down menu on offer – with no coffee or apple pies and fewer choices in each food category. But newcomers may be swayed by the restaurant’s environmental contribution to “the greenest Games ever.” The restaurant is McDonald’s first sustainable outlet, with most of the building materials due for reuse or recycling after the Paralympic Games.
Eating fast food in a centre of sporting excellence is a contradiction that has attracted much criticism in the press, and standing in long queues to eat fried food perhaps compounds this. But eating convenience food at sporting events is not a new phenomenon, or one that is likely to go away anytime soon. And McDonald’s is taking steps to “Inspire a generation” to be active – all Happy Meals toys at the park are Olympic mascots styled as athletes, and come with vouchers for free trial sessions in athletics, badminton, canoeing, gymnastics, football, swimming or martial arts. "Let's Move!" fans would, perhaps, approve.
Lorna Fray is a writer and editor for Interbrand.