Monday, March 19, 2007 03/19/07-mcdonalds

In today's excerpt--Dick and Mac McDonald, who had failed with two small Depression-era businesses, build a hamburger stand:

"So it was in 1940 they opened a small drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino ... a growing blue-collar town of perhaps 100,000 people. Somewhat to their surprise, they were an immediate hit ... [but] the McDonalds figured they needed even greater speed. On average, customers had to wait some twenty minutes for their food. 'My God, the carhops were slow, ... it was obvious the future of drive-ins was self- service.'

"The McDonalds had understood an important new trend in American life: Americans were ... living farther from their workplaces than ever before, ... they had less time and always seemed to be in a rush. ... Therefore, the brothers began to look for the weaknesses in their operation that caused delays. Obviously, the carhops would have to go. ... Their menu was surprisingly large, including hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue, and all manner of sandwiches. However, ... they found that 80 percent of their sales consisted of hamburgers ...

"[So] in the fall of 1948 they closed down for several months, fired all their carhops, and began to reinvent the process. They replaced their small cast iron grill with two stainless-steel six-footers ... They replaced the plates and silverware, which had a tendency to disappear anyway, with paper bags, wrappers, and paper cups. That eliminated the need for the dishwasher. They cut the menu from twenty-five items to nine, featuring hamburgers [for 15 cents] and cheeseburgers. ... The McDonalds, rather than their customers, chose the condiments: ketchup, mustard, onions, and two pickles (condiment stations had always been an eyesore, as far as they were concerned--slopped ketchup was everywhere). The McDonalds decided they wanted a machine to make their patties. Dick pondered the question and then figured out a candy company that made peppermint patties must have just the right device. ... The same machine could make hamburger patties. ... After some experimentation--regular heat lamps had failed--they figured they could keep hamburgers hot with infrared lights. ...

"What the McDonald brothers were doing with food was what Henry Ford had done to automobile manufacturing."

David Halberstam, The Fifties, Random House, 1993, pp. 156-8.


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