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Chisinau in Focus

Butter McSandwiches Anyone?

Imagine the world’s leading food retailer, with more than 30,000 restaurants in 118 countries, serving more than 46 million customers a day. Image a brand so masterfully popularized that its world famous “golden arches” logo can conjure up the smell of French Fries and trigger an appetite. Imagine a restaurant so much loved by kids from all over the world that it can find a place in seemingly any culture. Is this your picture of McDonald’s? But for this author at least, this once favourite fast food restaurant now finds that the pieces of its advertising jigsaw puzzle no longer fit into place.

Despite huge amounts of disparaging criticism and profound health concerns, McDonald’s is still largely adored by children. A well-marketed brand has the commercial power and agility to cajole offspring into withstanding parental discouragement and force hundreds of families worldwide to spend money on it. It certainly made me feel glad to spend even my own money on the best cheeseburger and strawberry milk shake until about a year ago, when I started to notice significant policy ‘changes’ in the quality of food and service at Chisinau restaurants.

Judging by the information available from a number of international resources this is true for the chain in other countries as well. The level of service has been reported to be in decline, leading to slipping customer satisfaction, not to say anything about McDonald’s transformations in respect to cleanliness and food quality, which have always been among the primary factors of its worldwide success.

McDonald’s was not only an extremely convenient eating place for me, it also offered the kind of food that I, being a very picky eater, could enjoy heartily, although with undoubtedly little benefit for personal health. But life is about making trade-offs and at least once in a week I could afford to damage my health irrevocably for a taste of well-known pickles and cheddar cheese. Like a happy childhood memory my trips to McDonald’s made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, until it wasn’t like that anymore.

After a movie at the downtown cinema my friend Samantha and I decided to get a bite to eat. Most restaurants were already closed at the time so we headed across the central square, past the Stefan cel Mare monument, to McDonald’s. It was late but the restaurant was fairly busy. Waiting for our turn in the queue we tried to figure out what to get. From the first I noticed that the young man at the cash register was not very polite when he typed in our order. He was inattentive and made me repeat everything three times over. When we had finally paid he requested for us to take a seat and wait for the food to come. That was the first thing that slightly annoyed me but the time of night was a more or less reasonable explanation for why one would be asked to sit down and wait in a fast food restaurant.

Sam and I chattered, recalling different episodes of the movie we had just seen, all the while waiting for our midnight snack. Suddenly the waiter appeared from around the corner and practically threw the tray with food on our table. It crashed against Sam’s arm so that the drinks nearly fell over. I caught it just in time to prevent a big mess and mused over the strange behavior on the part of any waiter, an employee of a company, which takes so much pride in its excellent service.

I handed Sam her chicken sandwich and fished mine out from under the French Fries that were scattered all over the tray. Then Samantha pointed out that they brought her a sandwich and a drink instead of the McChicken menu that also came with French Fries. She was foreign to Moldova and possessed little knowledge of either Romanian or Russian so I went to get the rest of the menu for her. The same man that took our order before and that threw our food at us was at the register. It took him no longer 50 seconds to completely spoil my good mood and my good evening. He did not only imply that I was stupid and my speech was muffled but nearly had the obnoxiousness to blame me for all the misfortunes of his life. It turned out that instead of adding the necessary amount to what had already been paid to make Sam’s order a menu he could do nothing but charge me extra for the Fries. My shock at the manner in which he talked was great and there was very little in the world that could justify the man’s behavior. He might have had a bad day but since when has that become the problem of McDonald’s customers? It may have been late but why keep a restaurant open at night if nice late shift people cannot be found?

Although I wanted Sam to have a good opinion of Moldova I couldn’t refrain from imparting my impressions. She shared some of her own very unpleasant experiences at McDonald’s in other countries. Whatever was happening to my once favorite restaurant was happening on a more global scale than the one particular McDonald’s in downtown Chisinau.

Since then my trips there became less frequent. I did not want to find myself in a situation when rude employees, that lose their temper, degrade the company’s image. Next time I knew I would not miss the opportunity of making that person find a lot of difficulty in pursuing a future career at McDonald’s. Nevertheless the memory of those happy family moments spent there did not cease to influence my taste buds again and again, until another disagreeable incident took place – this time of a different nature.

Late at night with a couple of friends we were walking home from the nightclub. Completely forgetting my previous disappointment with getting a midnight snack at McDonald’s I agreed to get cheeseburgers at the drive through, which was open 24 hours. We did not mind waiting for about fifteen minutes at the window while the sandwiches were probably being imported from a far away country and not made right there. The blow to my childhood recollections came when I ate the cheeseburger. The cheese on it was not regular McDonald’s cheese. First somebody in our group made a comment that it tasted like cream and then somebody else said it was more like butter. Butter instead of cheese on my burger was disgusting to even think about and I had to eat it like that!

Desperately in need of a drink I managed to shove the rest of the burger into my mouth. Their cheese stuck to my teeth and made me feel nauseous. It was the worst thing coming out of a McDonald’s restaurant I ever ate. Despite that the next afternoon I returned, only to confirm that my former impressions could never be revived and that my children would never experience the thrill of going to McDonald’s on the weekend. The experiment proved my assumptions to be correct, and I concluded that Chisinau had either run out of proper cheese supplies or McDonald’s was not what it once used to be.

How can my good faith and the consumer preferences of hundreds of other people around the globe be restored? One of the most obvious things for the Corporation worldwide, and Chisinau McDonald’s in particular, is to go back to basics. Rebuilding what has been the foundation of a unique culture could lure back even those that have deserted Ronald for healthier, lighter meals. The question then pending would probably have more to do with national associations of the brand with the American dream, a bite of which is already making some feel queasy. Until then Chisinau restaurants should simply start doing their beginner’s level homework.

By Natalia Corobco

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