Posted by: Johan Normark | January 10, 2010

McDonald’s obsolete designs

In my latest post I mentioned that American fast food restaurants can be life saviors for starving tourists who have had too much of the same food for a while. This has happened to me a couple of times when I finally have given up the diet of nasi goreng or mi goreng (any goreng actually). That big M of McDonald’s has not look better than after a week’s trekking in the Barito river area north of Banjarmasin in Kalimantan Selatan in Indonesia in 1993.

How did McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants become this important and fairly uniform?  Peter Englund has written about it in his short book Tystnadens historia. Back in the 1920s sausages began to lose their dominance on the fast food market. They had a reputation for being filthy and unhealthy. This reputation was fueled by the US beef industry, which saw the sausage (made of pork) as its main competitor. The sausage was seen as underclass and the beef lobby highlighted the “purer” burger for the middle class. This resulted in larger windows of their restaurants to show that they had nothing to hide. The chairs were made uncomfortable so that guests would not sit there too long. The restaurants also banned phones, jukeboxes and pinball games for the same reason. A fast food restaurant is not a place for meetings, only for consumption.

McDonald’s created a minimized and standardized menu, used prepared hamburgers, and let all employees become chefs. This efficient system was introduced in December 1948 but was not an instant success and sales fell by 80%. However, with the removal of female waitresses most noisy teenagers disappeared and these were replaced by working class families with children who went there for the peace and the low price. Hence, McDonald’s began to focus its advertising on families with children.

Nowadays the restaurants are far from peaceful and I believe they have nothing to hide. Sometimes the designs of buildings outlive their original purpose which become a bit obsolete.



  1. I think you are right, when you have been away somewhere for a while the familiarity of a MacDonalds is an easy and welcome option. We all know its not the best food in the world but it can still be very enjoyable.

  2. Junkfood is fine in small portions.


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