I am proud to say that the late longtime McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc and I were both born in Chicagoland in Oak Park and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. But while Kroc spent his life building a global mega burger brand, I’ve spent mine eating his burgers and french fries and drinking his shakes.
Kroc is legendary in the foodservice business. His passion, energy and determination fueled his competitive spirit and have served as an inspiration for many of today’s successful brands.
Today’s consumer may not understand the importance of fast food and its place in history. Kroc redefined the term "convenience" through the expansion of the McDonald brothers’ Speedee service system and gave Americans a consistent, affordable and fast option to dine away from home. The chain’s efficient systems in the back of house and focused customer service not only served billions, but created millions of jobs. Through innovation and drive, this founder invested in a business that has stood the test of time.
This story, as told in the new movie "The Founder," is a classic representation of the American dream as realized by an ambitious and aggressive salesman risking everything to invest in a blue sky idea. Choosing hard working franchisees and gaining the insight of a few smart people along the way, he was able to navigate obstacles that stood in the way of his success. The portrayal of Ray Kroc by Michael Keaton gives the audience a taste of his persistent, aggressive and ruthless tactics that allowed a businessman in the 1950s to achieve his goals and build a food service empire.
So how could the portrait of the company in this movie impact visits to McDonald’s restaurants? Will consumers leave the theater with their own renewed sense of personal ambition and strong sense of respect for an American institution, or will they continue to see fast-food giants in an increasingly negative light?
After spending the last 24 years doing research at foodservice consultancy Technomic, I believe the movie will meet with a favorable reaction from consumers. Younger generations who grew up with the brand will be able to better relate to the story and begin to emotionally connect to a brand they are familiar with, but perhaps outgrew as they aged beyond Happy Meals, play places and fun characters like Grimace, The Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese. Millennial consumers who grew up eating at McDonald’s and often finding their first employment there will reconnect with a brand that served them convenient breakfasts, cafe beverages and affordable dollar menu items. Older Gen X and boomer generations will reminisce by finding their way back to McDonald’s for a nostalgic signature Big Mac or Quarter Pounder. They will remember the legendary jingle “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun” as they sink their teeth into a fresh Big Mac, which can now be customized into three different sizes for any appetite.
It wasn’t that long ago that "Super Size Me" hit the big screen and outraged Americans. But since 2003, McDonald’s has dropped supersizing, focused on improving the quality of their ingredients, enhanced their supply chain practices supporting animal welfare and worked hard to maintain convenience, affordability and consistency across their 14,000-plus U.S. restaurants and global locations. Although this movie likely won’t have a significant effect on traffic to the stores, it’s more likely that moviegoers will consider McDonald’s a bit more in the short term and patronize a business that has been a pillar of our post-war culture.
I enjoyed the movie with my son and then we stopped in to our local McDonald’s for a couple of Big Macs and apple pies. McDonald’s has always been a part of my life and I don’t ever think the day will come that I won’t drive through or stop in for a fast-food bite of nostalgia and some great family memories from my parents and with my children.