Cookie Cutter? What Cookie Cutter?

suburban_mcdonalds
by James A. Bacon

McDonalds is one of those American companies that the fashionable set love to hate. Critics gripe about everything from the nutritional quality of its food to the way it sources its beef. One recurring source of scorn is how the restaurant chain undermines community character by building loud, garish stores, typically surrounded by asphalt on locations accessible only by automobile. It’s not clear to me whether McDonalds is imposing some atrocious architectural template upon its stores nationwide or whether the template is imposed upon McDonalds by the Euclidian zoning codes of jurisdictions across the United States. Regardless, there is nothing inevitable about the red roofs, golden arches and ticky-tack decor.

Ed McMahon, whose work on Virginia tourism and land use I highlighted in a recent blog post, responded to a comment in that post to the effect that “McDonalds didn’t make billions by letting locals operate different restaurants under a common banner.” Actually, he says, McDonalds is more flexible than most people realize.

“I just wanted to point out that McDonald’s does indeed allow locals to operate  restaurants that are totally different architecturally from what most Americans are used to seeing,” he says. By way of proof, he offers some of the photos he has collected of McDonalds restaurants around North America and Europe.

Norway

Norway

Monterey, California

Monterey, California

Hamlin, Germany

Hamlin, Germany

san_antonio

San Antonio, Texas

Lewiston, New York

Lewiston, New York

Freeport

Freeport

Ireland

Ireland

And just for good measure, here is a photo of a Burger King in Chesterfield County, Va., suburban shopping mall setting, published in an article McMahon wrote about the architecture of fast food restaurants. The generalizations that apply to McDonalds apply to many other fast food companies.

Henrico

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5 responses to “Cookie Cutter? What Cookie Cutter?

  1. Part of this is based on a locality’s “desperation” for a McDonald’s and the tax revenue it might bring. I’m sure McD’s has a pretty standard architectural plan that they’d like to plop down everywhere. It is up to the locality’s zoning/planning staff and governing body to say “No” to the box cutter and demand better. Some do, many don’t…..For instance, I am sure that Chesterfield zoning/planning officials have a lot more power at the negotiating table than, say, Martinsville. Nobody in C’field is going to ultimately care if another fast food chain locates there or not. There won’t be public outcry if there isn’t a 1000th fast food joint in the county or not. Thus, they can demand a better design/architecture in the zoning/planning process. Whereas…in smaller areas, if a “McDonald’s wants to come here, but the @!#%!% at City Hall are trying to block them” sentiment forms, you can be sure the City Council or BOS will let McD’s build whatever ugly building they desire.

  2. I always thought the most garish also preceded McDonalds – namely Pizza Hut.

    Pizza Huts, at least to me, defy any resemblance at all to any kind of conventional architecture.

    Number 2 – modern – Sheetz !

    No matter where you go these two are instantly recognizable for just how much they stand out from the surrounding structures – business or residential and I have to say – there are hundreds, thousands of small towns where these fast food ‘monstrosities” have integrated into neighborhoods to become an accepted , an expected part of the scene.

    There are so many small towns now past their nadir that actually had trains that ran down the middle of main street with both sides lined with the business district as well as antebellum homes.. People would sit on their porches watching the trains arriving and departing and the train station was situated right next to the track.

    so many small towns – now days have converted their main street train stations to museums, restaurants, and trendy shops… Others have converted the warehouse depots to similar re-uses.

    Here’s an example of one;

    https://youtu.be/d1ilzk_uOAo

  3. Thankfully, the ‘Macdo’ franchise flexibility in France extends to much more than architectural style. The food is better there because the standards are higher, and the menu is otherwise ‘frenchified’ (pun intended) to a certain degree.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/mcdonalds-in-france-is-better-than-in-america-2015-4
    http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/01/24/145698222/why-mcdonalds-in-france-doesnt-feel-like-fast-food

  4. All of which is to say that historic preservation zoning laws, that protect the architectural fabric of a community, are NOT a bar to economic development. Businesses come where the money is, and adapt as needed to thrive in that ecosystem.

  5. I think one of their first architectural variants appeared in Williamsburg long, long ago, when I was a student. Big deal at the time. But the food will still kill you. It will be an interesting debate for future historians which did more harm to Americans, the empire that died neither with a whimper nor a bang, but with daily insulin shots. Was it the purveyors of trans fat or the purveyors of nicotine who caused the epidemic? The nicotine is abating so we may have a winner.

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