I had probably eaten at McDonald’s twice in the past seven years. Then my dad died. I don’t know why, but this seemed to trigger a brief romance with the fast food chain.
The first instance came when my brother and I hadn’t eaten in hours at my dad’s wake. Hundreds of people came and waited in line for hours to pay their respects. We felt obligated to stay in line, but my cousin ran out to grab us some burgers. I was actually a little concerned with how my body would react. When I bit into my Big Mac, I hadn’t tasted anything so rewarding in years.
The next time I had McDonald’s was a few days later as I was driving from my hometown of Buffalo back to Connecticut, where we live now. Given the whirlwind of a week that had just past, we hadn’t packed anything for our 22-month old son to eat for lunch. So we decided he’d probably eat chicken nuggets and fries. I declared that McDonald’s had the best fries, so we might as well go there. My wife and I had packed sandwiches so we really weren’t eating there (although I scavenged plenty of my son’s fries).
The experience at the McDonald’s we visited that day was dramatically different from what I had anticipated. First, there was a piano on a stage, surrounded by stools. No one was playing, but it was certainly interesting.Then there was the employee that was sweeping the floors who brought over a high chair for my son (I was still pretty disoriented from the past week, so it never dawned on me to get one myself). Then he had a friendly chat with me about his grandson, who is close in age to my son. Finally, after I ordered a second round of fries after my son threw his on the floor, the manager told me he would have paid for them. Completely unnecessary, but the gesture really resonated with me, far more than it would have a few weeks prior. This brief visit to a McDonald’s near the thruway in Cortland, NY was a very unexpected force for good.
Then today, I decided it was time to close out my tryst with McDonald’s. I had given myself permission to eat whatever I wanted for a few weeks, because that was probably going to happen anyways. I enjoyed Girl Scout cookies I might have otherwise rationed along with plenty of salty snacks. I was at a UPS store having a notary witness my signature on my notice to my parent’s attorney to waive probate — something I have been assured is merely me avoiding having to show up in court — when I decided to bring my binge to a close in the best way I could think of, one more trip to McDonald’s.
I decided to recreate a value meal from my past. Growing up, my family would order a meal that had two cheeseburgers, fries and a drink. We’d order about 4 of these for the 5 of us and it would work out. One of our family’s favorite stories to tell is the time we stopped at a McDonald’s in Florida just after our flight landed. When this familiar value meal was unavailable, we all hesitated and didn’t know what to eat. My dad then informed the person working at the drive through that “we’re all brain dead” and pulled into a parking space. We then walked into that same McDonald’s to order our meals.
I ordered two cheeseburgers, a medium fry, and a small drink today. It didn’t really feel special, but I kind of felt I owed it to McDonald’s for being a strange force of comfort in a difficult time. I informed my wife that salads are on the menu at home tonight, and hopefully the weather will warm soon so I can resume half-marathon training. I’m not sure when the next time I’ll eat at McDonald’s again, but for whatever reason, it’s treated me well these past few weeks.
I’m sure there is a branding lesson in here somewhere. But that is for another post.