Matt is a proud man and one of his proudest achievements is a thing he hasn’t even done. He will crow to anyone within earshot that he has never been to a McDonald’s, not even poked his size elevens over the threshold. It’s not clear who he’s trying to impress with this inconsequential constraint and, for all he knows, he could really be missing out on something good. After all, people are lovin’ it!
So, in the interests of their readers and to demonstrate to the big fella what he might be missing, Cat undertook the McDonald’s mission while, a few doors up, Matt tried English fast food at Stotesbury’s chippy.
Unlike some restaurants where the shopfront doesn’t even hint at the pleasures within, McDonald’s has vast windows, showing an enticing and brightly lit world of clean tables, munching families and uniformed staff waggling a broom across the spotless floor. Cat pushed at the door and took a tentative step into the restaurant, trying not to look like a noob.
The layout of McDonald’s has been honed to perfection; after all, the company has over half a century of experience to draw upon. The incomer is lured towards the high-level photographs of yummy-looking food at the rear of the eatery. Cat’s eyes scanned along the pictures of crispy battered chicken nestled in perfectly browned seeded bread, with more than a hint of clean and fresh-looking salad poking out of the edges. She then glanced along to the beefy selection.
Cat, determined to immerse herself in this universal fast food experience, forewent the healthier-looking chicken and foliage options and plumped straight for a Big Mac. This signature burger looked appetising enough from its portrait: two meat patties alternated with bread, cheese and lettuce and, as the ‘Big Mac Meal’, it came with fries and a drink. Cat asked about the drinks choices as though she was at a sophisticated bar, and the server duly reeled off the range: fizzies, hot drinks and orange juice. Unlike KFC, Cat was able to choose Tropicana without paying extra, and so she did.
Big Mac meal £3.89
While her server disappeared to find some change, another chap popped up and laid out Cat’s gift-wrapped food on a tray. Some condiments were requested and added to the meal. Cat was slightly disappointed that the Heinz ketchup was in a little tub and was not dispensed from a sauce fountain like the one she had seen at McDonald’s, Ryde. Palming her change, Cat took her meal and, spying a little counter in the middle of the restaurant, she thought, “I’ll sit at that counter”. At that very moment a third chap attended to her, “Don’t sit at the counter until I’ve wiped it for you”, said Joe. Cat was surprised. “Did you read my mind, or did I say that out loud?”, she asked. Joe explained that he’d spotted her intent as she had swivelled towards the little bar area and, in a flash he’d given the counter a wipe. “Let me know if there’s anything else you need”, he added.
Cat was astounded at all this unexpected attention. Having heard demeaning remarks about spotty teenagers dumbly flipping burgers she is very happy to renounce those clichés. That may be the case in the rest of this global franchise but the Isle of Wight McDonald’s experience was better than in some of the more salubrious places Cat has eaten.
Anyway, parking herself at the counter she examined her packages. A gaping carton of fries revealed its stick-like contents. The burger’s cardboard casket was prised open and Cat was presented with something not unlike the photo of the Big Mac. It was a tall bun filled with the aforementioned ingredients, although they were slightly deflated. The burgers themselves were thin, slimmer than anything that Captain Birdseye had ever created for The Cat in the 1970s when meat was still being rationed. The lettuce wasn’t quite as abundant and springy, looking suspiciously like iceberg rather than the curly greens of the photo. Indicating the burger’s cardinal points were four tiny yellow triangles, poking out from under the bottom burger like finches’ beaks. These turned out to be the visible parts of a square slice of cheese. The inner portion of the dairy treat had melted into a runny paste and assimilated itself with the iceberg lettuce. Cat wondered if the ‘bird beaks’ were added post-production to give the impression of solid cheese, and the sub-burger area was dressed with some liquid cheese simulation. Cat decided to eat her gherkin although it was clear from observing her fellow diners that the purpose of this vegetable remnant was to be flicked disdainfully out of the bun. It added nothing but a salty crunch to the burger and she wished she had gone native and had flung it to one side.
The bar at which Cat sat was occupied on the facing side by two young girls who, until her arrival had been quietly eating their food. Suddenly they started larking about in a noisy and, frankly, ill-mannered way; screaming at the tops of their voices with their mouths agape, revealing half-masticated food. Cat turned round to see what they were laughing at. Server Joe was right behind her, standing stock still like a statue. As she turned to face the girls, the yelling started again and it didn’t take Cat long to realise that the previously impeccably courteous Joe was behaving provocatively behind her to entertain the children. Anyone who has ever tried to make fun of a cat of any variety will understand her reaction. All of her food was still on its tray so she gathered her things and found another seat. Passing Joe, he sheepishly said sorry to her.
Cat settled into the store’s ‘gangster seat’, i.e. in a corner facing the door so that she could see the whole room in one glance. It wasn’t as nice a perch as her bar stool, being as it was next to the toilets, but at least she was moderately free from torment. By now the food had gone cold; its journey from servery to stomach is probably designed to be about three minutes so there was no chance it would retain its heat for the quarter of an hour or so it had been in Cat’s possession. As she nibbled away at her cold supper, she saw Matt peering through the window; outside in the rain he was nonetheless determined not to break his duck.
Once the last of the fries had been washed down with the dregs of the orange juice, Cat took her litter and deposited it in the bin on her way out. She and Matt reconvened in the adjacent George Inn for a postprandial coffee and to compare notes. Matt described his pleasure at eating his Stotesbury’s fish supper. Cat concluded that the McDonald’s experience started out extremely well. Clear instructions, a constantly cleaned environment and very attentive staff – despite the woeful misjudgement of the children’s entertainer – were all hallmarks of an excellent establishment. As for the food itself, Cat couldn’t remember having eaten it; thereby having truly participated in the global McDonald’s experience.