Did somebody say McDonald's?
That's probably how you got to this page — it's probably the most common "not-a-wiki-word" that appears on the TV Tropes Wiki, since our wiki parser automatically converts CamelCase into article links.
But since McDonalds is such a big part of modern culture, we may as well make the visit worth your while. (Would you like fries with that?)
It all started in 1954 when Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer salesman, found out that one of his customers brought many more mixers than usual for a business. He traveled to San Bernardino, California, to find that two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald, ran their diner at an amazing rate, serving way more customers than a usual restaurant should by the simple expedient of not making each burger to order; instead of putting veggies and condiments according to each customer's preference, every burger was made to a more-or-less uniform standard to maximize efficiency while the restaurant had a condiment bar where customers could then add ketchup and mustard on their own. He pitched them the idea of creating McDonald's restaurants all over the U.S. The McDonald's Corporation was founded the next year. By 1958, McDonald's had sold 100 million hamburgers. By 1960, Kroc bought exclusive rights to the McDonald's name.
1963 saw the creation of the restaurant chain's most famous mascot, a clown called Ronald McDonald. The character was later given his own fantasy world for the commercials in the 1970s, McDonaldland. The creation of the long running advertising campaign originally involved Sid and Marty Krofft Productions using their H.R. Pufnstuf characters, only to be told by McDonald's advertising company, Needham, Harper and Steers, that the project was cancelled. With them out of the way, the agency blatantly plagiarized the Kroffts' concept using their former crew. The Kroffts noticed, and successfully sued McDonald's.
Since then, McDonald's has added more than the original burgers, fries and sodas to its menu. Breakfast items are sold from opening until 10 A.M. (11 A.M on Sundays), unlike most independent restaurants in their price range who'll serve their breakfast menu all day if they have one. The Filet-O-Fish was created to cater to the Catholic communities that ate no meat on Fridays during Lent (fish doesn't count). The Happy Meal and corporate Mascot Ronald McDonald were created to appeal to children. McCafé items (after the café section offered in a few countries) were added in the late 2000s to compete with Starbucks and other coffee vendors. And then, of course, there's the chain's flagship burger, the Big Mac. Its ingredients made for a snappy jingle: "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun." (That bun is a 3-part bun, making the Big Mac a double-decker burger). The Big Mac is so well known that the number of calories in one is often used as a unit of measure (as in, "(Fatty food X) has as many calories as 3 Big Macs.")note A Big Mac with the default toppings has 540 calories in the US and Canada. In Europe and Oceania, a Big Mac ranges from 490-500 calories.
The original San Bernardino restaurant has since been re-designed into a museum dedicated to the company. The oldest McDonald's still in operation is the 4th location in Downey, California, which sports an image of Speedee the Hamburger-Head Mascot and a sign proudly proclaiming that the chain has sold 500 million hamburgersnote It survived intact for so long because the original owner's franchise agreement was with the McDonald brothers, prior to Kroc's takeover and the addition of a mandatory modernization clause to the franchise agreement. By the 1970s, the company buildings began including dining rooms and drive-through windows, coinciding with the addition of the now-trademark Mansard roof. In 2008, a new "modern" store design was unveiled, dubbed "Forever Young" (or "Giant Eyebrow of Doom").
The quality and nutritional value of the food served is debatable - if nothing else, it sets the floor that everyone else has to do better than to be in the restaurant business - but no one can deny that the ubiquity of this fast food restaurant (over 30,000 in 119 countries) has a significant impact on human culture.
Until the mid-2000s, McDonald's also owned Donatos Pizza, Boston Market (a "fast casual" chain specializing in rotisserie chicken) and Chipotle Mexican Grill (an upscale burrito chain which, weirdly enough, became more popular after McDonald's ditched the chain and it went independent).
The corporation operates a fully-furnished, constantly updated to the latest store model but entirely fake restaurant in Southern California which is offered to film and TV productions as well as used for almost all of their own commercials (worldwide). Chances are when you see a McDonalds on TV, it's that one.
Due to the company's wide scope, it has produced many works (most frequently advertising) with tropes of their own. For YMMV on works related to McDonald's, click here.
This company provides examples of:
Advertising Copywriters Cannot Do Math: When the UK McDonalds introduced a "Pound Saver" menu (8 items for £1 each), they promoted it as "40,312 combinations". This was presumably supposed to be the number of ways of ordering from the Pound Saver menu a meal consisting of 2-8 items once each, but for some unfathomable reason they worked it out as 8!-8. The correct calculation is 28-9, the total of all combinations minus 1 for the "combination" consisting of no items and 8 for those consisting of only one — a much less impressive 247.note The 40,312 figure would be correct if the order of the items in each combo mattered — that is, if 7 fries and one Big Mac was a different combination than six fries, one Big Mac, and one additional fries.
Blatant Burglar: The Hamburglar wears a domino mask and a costume with black-and-white horizontal stripes. His frequent mutterings of "robble robble robble" don't exactly help hide his intentions, either.
As mentioned in the description, their entire business model was built on this, making uniform burgers to increase the restaurants' efficiency.
Their most popular menu item for a long time has been the Filet-O-Fish sandwich, largely due to the fact that observant Catholics can't eat meat on Fridays (fish doesn't count). The number one definition for the Filet-O-Fish on Urban Dictionary even refers to it as "the Catholic Big Mac".note NSFW warning — the second definition, in true Urban Dictionary fashion, describes a made-up sex act. It's also become popular among Muslims, due to the fact that the sandwich's ingredients just so happened to meet halal guidelines.
McDonald's is the Trope Codifier. In fact, Fast Food Nation accuses them of trying to make their jobs so simple that a new person could be trained in 15 minutes, making everyone wholly expendable.
Needless to say, the company is not exactly a fan of the "McJob" slang for a badly paid nonunion fast food job with poor working conditions that a trained chimp could do. In the UK (where the term is particularly popular) their recruiting department even ran an advertising campaign with the tagline "Not bad for a McJob" in an attempt to neutralize the negative image associated with working at McDonalds has. It didn't work. When the Oxford English Dicitionary added McJob to the dictionary, the company threatened to sue the dictionary for trademark infringement and also attempted to start a petition to get the definition changed (it failed, partly because its own employees wouldn't sign it).
The suspicion is that companies depending on poorly paid McJobs would not welcome trained chimpanzees, as animals would have better legislation to protect their interests and welfare, and paying in peanuts would, in the long run, cost more than minimum wage.
Ronald McDonald himself. In the Washington DC area Bozo the Clown made appearances at local McDonald's bringing in massive crowds. When the show was cancelled, actor Willard Scott (yes, the weatherman) created a new costume and name while keeping the Bozo act.
The other McDonaldland characters were blatantly ripped off from H.R. Pufnstuf after Sid and Marty Krofft Productions refused to license the original characters. The company sued and McDonald's ended up paying a large settlement.
Dub Name Change/Japanese Ranguage: In Japan Ronald McDonald is called Donald McDonald, in deference to the lack of a clear "r" sound in Japanese. It’s quite interesting to note that the first English teacher in Japan was an American named Ranald McDonald.
Dumb Is Good: The Grimace. Though he wasn't exactly a genius when he was evil either.
Early-Installment Weirdness: Early locations were walk-up stands with no seating. The signature Mansard roofs didn't come until the early 70s.
Before releasing the Filet-O-Fish, the company test-marketed the "Hulaburger" - basically a hamburger with a slice of pineapple in place of the meat.
Several concepts have attempted to compete with Burger King's Whopper:
The McDLT (1984), which came in a box that had the hot burger patty on one side and the toppings on the other (the idea being that the toppings would stay cool and fresh while the burger itself was hot). A chicken variation was also available. It was retired due to concerns over its styrofoam packaging.
The McLean Deluxe (1991), a low-fat burger which replaced most of the fat with carrageenan but otherwise identical to the McDLT. Quietly dropped in 1996.
Their "adult" menu (1996) included the Arch Deluxe (a "premium" burger with higher-quality toppings), a grilled chicken sandwich, a fried chicken sandwich (replacing the McChicken) and a larger fish sandwich. This whole line was intentionally targeted at adults, with ads featuring children repulsed over the food. While this burger line was one of the biggest flops in fast food history, the Filet o' Fish permanently adopted the larger size; the grilled and fried chicken sandwiches were simply renamed; and the McChicken came back. Some of the "adult" menu concepts were Re Tooled into the Big N' Tasty (2000-2011), which was also nearly identical to the McDLT, and the Angus line of burgers introduced in 2006 and phased out in 2013.
Another concept that never took off was pizza, which was tried in only a few markets in the late 80s-early 90s. It was, however, more popular in Canada, being introduced in 1992 and continuing to be served as late as 1999.
Despite CEO Ray Kroc insisting that McDonald's never sell hot dogs (he viewed them as unhygienic), some McDonald's stores nevertheless have sold hot dogs in the past. One summer during the 2000s, for instance, they briefly sold half-smokes as part of a summer-themed line of foods; they were dropped not long after. Midwest restaurants do sell Johnsonville bratwurst as a seasonal item.
They have also tried concept restaurants to varying degrees of success. Among these were:
McDonald's Express (small locations with limited menus, often found in convenience stores, airports, malls, and Walmart stores). A few are still around, mainly Canadian Walmart ones.
Various takes on drive-thru-only locations, including some built in a Retraux 1950s style. Likewise, a few still exist.
Five "Mini Mac" locations with drive-thru and walk-up windows akin to Rally's/Checkersnote Bay City and Redford Township, Michigan; Toledo, Ohio; West Los Angeles, California; and Boston, Massachusetts. Surprisingly for such a failed concept, two (West Los Angeles, California and Bay City, Michigan) are still open.
McDiner, which was obviously a diner-style restaurant. These existed in Indiana and Kentucky from 2001 to 2004, when they were converted to standard McDonald's restaurants.
Follow the Leader: If McDonald's has done it (fish sandwich, chicken nuggets, play places, Happy Meals, salads, Angus burgers, high-end coffees), chances are that many fast food chains have copied. Even if they weren't the first to develop something (for instance, Burger Chef was actually the first chain to have kids' meals), their version is usually the example that every other chain follows.
Going the other way, the Big Mac is a clone of Big Boy's "Big Boy" burger (two patties, extra bun in the middle, secret sauce).
McCafe was started to cash in on the success of Starbucks.
Food Porn: McDonald's certainly pushes it hard in the commercials. Fun fact: When you see the burgers on TV, the pickles stick out the side so the viewer can see them. If you're actually working at McDonalds, the pickle goes in the center of the burger so that it can get bitten into from any direction.
They're rather infamous for this, frequently taking other businesses to court for "copyright infringement", typically for including the prefix "Mc" or "Mac" in their names. They once sued a Scottish café owner called McDonald, even though the place had been in business for over a century.
On the other side, the oft-repeated Stella Liebeck case was against McDonalds. You know, the one where the woman spilled hot coffee over herself while driving, sued, and won millions of dollars? The whole story, though, is a lot more nuanced: the coffee McDonalds served (and continues to serve) is at 180-190°F (82.2-87.8°C) which Liebeck's attorneys argued is way too high and made the coffee defective, Liebeck wasn't even driving the car (it was her grandson's Ford Probe, who had pulled over to let her add cream and sugar) and had the cup between her thighs because the car had no cupholders, she was wearning cotton sweatpants which absorbed the hot liquid and kept it next to her skin she ended up with 3rd-degree burns—some of which were in some very sensitive areas (think: if you spill hot coffee from a cup held between your thighs in a cramped car, where would it go?)—and needed over a week in the hospital (during which time she lost nearly 20% of her weight) and two years of further medical treatment, and they initially tried to settle for $20,000 to cover medical expenses (the company initially responded with just $800). The trial itself saw the jury award Liebeck $200,000 in compensation and $2.7 million in punitive damages, but the judge cut this down to $640,000 and they later settled out of court.
Goggles Do Nothing: Birdie is rarely, if ever, seen with her aviator goggles over her eyes.
Grandfather Clause: A handful of mostly southern California restaurants still use 1950s store designs. Their original owners' franchise agreements were with the McDonald brothers - it wasn't until Ray Kroc took over that mandatory updating was included - and those stores now qualify for historic preservation.
Out of Focus: All of the mascots save for Ronald McDonald. Though even he is starting to appear less and less.
Retraux: Many restaurants in the 1980s and 1990s were built in a faux-fifties style. Some of them were even built to have only drive-thru and walk-up service, like the earliest ones. The McDonald's near Charing Cross Station in London once had a beautiful Art Deco interior, but is now a bland modern design.
The '60s Lovin' Spoonful hit "Do You Believe in Magic?" was used in a few commercials featuring Ronald.
Donna Summer's "She Works Hard For the Money" was remade into "She gets more for her money, 'Cause McDonald's treats her right."
Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" was rewritten as "Mac Tonight" to advertise that McDonald's was staying open at later hours. A campaign which was accompanied by this animated mascot (though in America he wasn't animated).
(Buh-duh bah-bah-bah!) "I'm Lovin' It" (the current slogan) was originally a Justin Timberlake song.
Un-Person: The company's official history gives more credit to the McDonald brothers than it did prior to Ray Kroc's death, but still glosses over things like the fact they had already begun franchising before Kroc entered the picture.
Pop culture references to McDonald's:
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Super Size Me is a documentary where director Morgan Spurlock spends thirty days eating exclusively at McDonalds to demonstrate the effects of fast food on American diet, interspersed with segments from fans and critics of the company.
In Pulp Fiction, Jules and Vincent discuss what a Quarter Pounder with cheese is called in France. It's apparently called a "Royale with Cheese" and a Big Mac is called "Le Big Mac". note In real life, Royal Deluxe and just plain Big Mac respectively.
One of the kids in Space Camp talks about building a McDonald's on the moon in case an astronaut gets a "Big Mac Attack". Same kid later mentions a guy he knew who could hold his breath for a long time by thinking about eating french fries.
An odd reference in Scotland PA, a Black ComedySetting Update of Macbeth in a rural fast-food restaurant in the 70's. After Joe and Pat murder Duncan and take over his restaurant, they rename it after themselves: McBeth's. They even use a giant letter M as their logo.
The live action film version of The Flintstones has RockDonald's, where "dozens and dozens" have been served. Some McDonald's stores were even redone to RockDonald'ses to help promote the film., and RockDonald's featured heavily in TV ads for both McDonald's and the film itself.
In Mostly Harmless, it is discovered that an alien race has been observing humanity for years, and building up a huge addiction to McDonalds on the way.
Good Omens features references to Burger Lord and their mascot, McLordy the Clown. As well as what happened when Burger Lord agents tried to visit France.
In an episode of Red Dwarf, where the crew answer a distress call turning out to emanate from a long-dead female crew, Rimmer looks down at the skeletal remains and wails that they've got as much meat on them as a Chicken McNugget. The "Mc", though visible from Chris Barrie's lip movements is notably muted.
Mark Knopfler's song "Boom, Like That", is all about Ray Kroc's turning McDonald's into a franchise, and his less than nice techniques. (After he bought them out, the original McDonald brothers started a new restaurant. Kroc put a McDonald's across the street and ran them out of business.)
The competition, send them south; they're gonna drown, put a hose in their mouth.
In one of his songs, Doctor Steel sings that he has a "Ronald McRaygun".
Brad Jones, aka The Cinema Snob, has tried two McDonald's Open Secret menu items on his Brad Tries segment; the Mc10:35, a combo of the McDouble and the Egg McMuffin (which he found kind of bland), and the McGangBang, a combo of the McDouble and the McChicken (which he found pretty good, and kicked himself for not trying it sooner).
A different segment of his, Eighties Dan, discussed the McDLT. Turns out it's a bad idea to eat a burger that's been in a time capsule for twenty years.
Early strips of Kevin & Kell had Lindesfarne work at a lawyer friendly version of McDonalds, McRoughage, a fast food join catering to the herbivore members of society. Rudy tried to extort money (and a year's worth of customers for him to eat) from them by cybersquatting on every possible web address McRoughage could use to force their hand. They responded by changing their name to McFiber instead.
Joel Maxwell starts working at one in this strip. He sucks up so well he gets transferred to Moscow.
The Simpsons: Lots with respect to Krusty Burger, the "premiere"(?) fast-food chain in Springfield. It all starts with the restaurant's proprietor-founder, Krusty the Klown.
Episodes featuring specific references to McDonald's — both at Krusty Burger and elsewhere:
"Lisa's First Word": The 1993 episode features the Simpson family flashing back to 1983-1984. With pop culture references abounding (including one for rival chain Wendy's), the major one relating to McDonald's is a spoof of the chain's "scratch-and-win" promotion for the 1984 Olympics, where customers could win a Big Mac, french fries, a soft drink, or even a cash prize of up to $10,000 if Team USA won a medal in the visitor's listed event. Krusty Burger customers could also win food prizes or cash, but (like McDonald's in Real Life), the promotion was created and the tickets printed before the Soviet Union announced it was backing out of the Summer Games. Many of the tickets were printed to reflect events in which the USSR or another Eastern Bloc country was favored to win; with their withdrawal, the United States won many of those events, causing Krusty Burger to lose millions of dollars because they awarded more food than they had budgeted for.
"22 Short Films About Springfield": Chief Wiggum and Springfield's "finest" are discussing the merits of Krusty Burger vs. McDonald's, much like the "Royale with Cheese" scene in Pulp Fiction. The other Springfield officers have never heard of McDonald's, though it's stated to have over 2,000 locations in the state.
"Missionary: Impossible": Mr. Burns yells at Bart — thinking him to be Homer — for "taking the Hamburglar's birthday off as a holiday" in one scene. (Bart had taken Homer's place at the plant when his father went on a last-minute mission trip ... to avoid persecution by angry PBS celebrities for making a hasty pledge to get their fundraising campaign off his TV, thinking they wouldn't be able to track him down and actually make him pay it.)
"I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can": Krusty Burger has a national "Ribwich Tour" to taste-test the Ribwich sandwich (a pork ribette sandwich similar to the McRib) in different markets. The "Ribwich Tour" drew its inspiration from the same campaign put on by McDonald's, and when Krusty Burger pulled the Ribwich from its menu, it caused the same kind of uproar.
"The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer": It is revealed that Krusty pays local mob boss Fat Tony to keep rival Mc Donald's restaurants out of Springfield.
In Beavis and Butt-Head, the boys work at Burger World. The establishment's logo is an upside down version of the Golden Arches, a common way to parody the franchise. The restaurant itself is a parody of Whataburger, a regional chain with locations in Mike Judge's native Texas.