An Introduction to McDonaldization
ay Kroc (1902–1984), the genius behind the franchising of McDonald’s restaurants, was a man with big ideas and grand ambitions. But even Kroc could not have anticipated the astounding impact of his creation. McDonald’s is the basis of one of the most influential developments in contemporary society. Its reverberations extend far beyond its point of origin in the United States and in the fast-food business. It has influenced a wide range of undertakings, indeed the way of life, of a significant portion of the world. And having rebounded from some well-publicized economic difficulties, that impact is likely to expand at an accelerating rate in the early 21st century. However, this is not a book about McDonald’s, or even about the fastfood business, although both will be discussed frequently throughout these pages. I devote all this attention to McDonald’s (as well as to the industry of which it is a part and that it played such a key role in spawning) because it
Editor’s Note: From Ritzer, G., McDonaldization of Society, Revised New Century Edition, copyright © 2004, reprinted with permission of Sage Publications, Inc.
serves here as the major example of, and the paradigm for, a wide-ranging process I call McDonaldization—that is, the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world.
McDonaldization has shown every sign of being an inexorable process, sweeping through seemingly impervious institutions (e.g., religion) and regions (European nations such as France) of the world. The success of McDonald’s itself is apparent: In 2006, its revenues were $21.6 billion, with operating income of $4.4 billion. McDonald’s, which first began operations in 1955, had 31,667 restaurants throughout the world at the beginning of 2007. Martin Plimmer, a British commentator, archly notes: There are McDonald’s everywhere. There’s one near you, and there’s one being built right now even nearer to you. Soon, if McDonald’s goes on expanding at its present rate, there might even be one in your house. You could find Ronald McDonald’s boots under your bed. And maybe his red wig, too.
McDonald’s and McDonaldization have had their most obvious influence on the restaurant industry and, more generally, on franchises of all types: 1. According to the International Franchise Association, there were 767,483 small franchised businesses in the United States in late 2006, and they did about $1.5 trillion in annual sales. They employed more than 18 million people. Franchises are growing rapidly; over 57% of McDonald’s restaurants are franchises. McDonald’s invested in a Denver chain, Chipotle, in 1998 and became its biggest investor in 2001. At the time, Chipotle had 15 stores. By the time McDonald’s divested itself of its interest in the company on October 13, 2006, there were over 500 Chipotle restaurants. (Starbucks, the current star of the fast-food industry, interestingly refuses to franchise its operations.) 2. In the restaurant industry, the McDonald’s model has been adopted not only by other budget-minded hamburger franchises, such as Burger King and Wendy’s, but also by a wide array of other low-priced fast-food businesses. As of the beginning of 2007, Yum! Brands, Inc. operated 34,277 restaurants in over 100 countries under the Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, A&W Root Beer, and Long John Silver’s franchises. Yum! Brands has more outlets than McDonald’s, although its total sales ($9.5 billion in 2006) is not nearly as high. Subway (with over 27,000 outlets
An Introduction to McDonaldization——5
in 85 countries) is one of the fastest-growing fast-food businesses and claims to be—and may actually be—the largest restaurant chain in the United States. The Cleveland, Ohio, market, to take one example, is...