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It isn't often I venture into MacDonald's, but on a damp and grey Bank Holiday Monday, this I where I ended up. I really detest sitting there on yellow chairs watching my kids munching synthetic food, so please be assured this was a rare visit.
Don't get me wrong, when I was my children's age and Macy D's first introduced itself into this country, I couldn't get enough of the place and nagged my poor mother into oblivion every weekend just to take me there. Now I have grown older and hopefully wiser, my sensible head has kicked in and all I see is just how nutrionally bad the food really is, even though they try to come across as if this is healthy eating.
So what is fast food exactly? When you are sitting on those uncomfortable plastic seats what else can you do but realise that I am meant to eat fast food fast. Most of the menu is already cooked and waiting for you to take off the shelf. You can pay, eat and go within 30 minutes. The atmosphere is hardly relaxing, I feel I am entering indigestion city when I walk through the doors.
******** A BIT OF HISTORY *********
For those of you who are unaware of what a MacDonald's "restaurant" is, all I can say is that this is the home of instant food, not the healthiest but by far one of the quickest. The restaurants are worldwide and are un missable with their large yellow capital M logo. Mac's came to the UK in 1974 and then were nothing but walk in diners. Now they have introduced drive in's almost everywhere. There are now over 1000 diners in the UK with many more worldwide.
**** OPENING TIMES, HOW TO BUY YOUR FOOD & PARKING **********
Unlike Pizza Hut or the local Tandori, Mac's do not offer a home delivery service. However, quite a lot of restaurants are open 24 hours, 7 days a week. If not 24 hour, then the doors are open at 7 am in time for a Mc Muffin and hot coffee. Check on the website for the exact times of the branch you wish to visit.
If you choose the drive in method to collect your food, then depending on where you are, either give your order into a loud speaker from your car window or to an assistant usually standing there with a PDA. Drive to the next window where the cashier takes your money and gives you the straws, dips and napkins.
The last window is where your food is handed over , hopefully. If you have selected one of the healthier options such as a chicken sandwich toasted deli, then usually you have to park up in one of three nominated parking bays where an assistant will bring your food over. The reason being is that this is cooked fresh and not kept on the heated shelf.
The diner has non-automatic doors, which is almighty pain with a buggy or if you have a wheelchair. The double doors are heavy and cumbersome where push and pull are a contradiction of terms and if you have entered a Macdonalds you know exactly what I mean.
Once inside, its straight up to the till points and to the cashiers. There are menus on the wall above them but for some reason they all seem to think you know what you want there and then, without having a chance to scan the menu properly. Give your order over, pay and then within minutes your food is in front of you, either on a try or a take out bag. If you eat in, a few pennies are added onto your bill for the privilege of sitting on the cold and uncomfortable plastic seats.
Most Macs have parking, not a huge amount of space so be prepared to wait at busy times such as weekends and Friday evenings. There is usually no charge for customers but your time there is limited
to about 2 hours.
You then have the option to take your food home or sit down and eat within minutes. It's not a relaxing experience and neither is the piped music. Even the sound of the top 40 chart doesn't drown out the shouting from behind the counters as the managers are homing in on their staff.
The majority of Mac's have two floors but I have yet to see a lift . Therefore if you are disabled or a mum with a pram/buggy, tackling the stairs can be an almighty challenge. I doubt if the staff will offer you any assistance, they haven't helped me with my children yet; it's always been a customer that has offered me support.
********** MENU *****************
There is a huge variety of choice from salads to the BIG MAC. You can even get breakfast, though it does taste of plastic and nothing like a traditional English fry up.
Here is a just a small selection of items that I had to admit that I have consumed in my lifetime. Fortunately I have weaned myself off fast food since my youth but do give in on the rare occasion. Just to give you an idea, I have included the calorie value on some of the foods.
Chicken Nuggets: About three inches in length and various widths. These pieces of chicken are according to Mac's " premium chicken breast fillet cooked in golden bread crumb" . My children adore these. I found them tasteless lumps of stringy pulp. A dip is given upon request, probably to improve the non-existent flavour of the nugget. The runny dips are either sweet and sour, ketchup or bbq. Be careful of your clothes, these stain if dribbled down your t - shirt. A portion of six nuggets is equal to 203 calories. Not as filling as a burger but one of the lowest items in fat on the menu.
Fries: Made from russet Burbank, shepody or pentland dell potatoes. The fries are skinny and no more than 5 inches in length. Incredibly salty even though Mac's say they contain only a sprinkle of salt. Tell that to the staff that stand in the corner by the fryer, I have never seen just a sprinkle yet, more like a downpour. No aroma of freshly cooked chips, just a blast of grease. The taste is quite unpleasant and the limp chip is more of a pulp, than a meaty French fry.
In a large portion of fries, expect to digest a whole 450 cals, a medium portion will give you 321 calories. A child's happy meal size is 225 calories.
These come in various sizes and disguises. Ranging from the humble hamburger to the Big Mac. I am slightly partial to the quarter pounder with cheese but always have to remove that revolting gherkin.
The quarter pounder with cheese has a thigh slapping large calorific value of 516. Oozing grease and lots of mayo and cheese, destined to leave a trickle of grease down your chin and a piece of shrivelled lettuce on your top. The burger is rather chewy with a good proportion of gristle in its meat but the cheese disguises it somewhat.
The double cheeseburger is 438 cals. More cheese than meat, slightly smaller than the quarter pounder but staked higher with lettuce.
Plain hamburger just 271 cals, but within three bites its gone. Quite plain and non-descript. Just the right size for small hands though not recommended for an adult to sustain hunger.
The BIG MAC. Looks nothing like the picture on the advert. Take one bite and guaranteed some mayo squirts out over your hand. Similar to the quarter pounder but just on a larger scale. Filled with lettuce, gherkins and cheese, it's quite a monster.
Milkshake: This was one of my favourites. Since I read a snippet in the tabloids about Mac's using liquefied chicken fat to thicken the shakes with I have sucked a single drop. The shakes come in three flavours, strawberry, vanilla and chocolate. Occasionally some diners sell banana but this is rare. Hard to suck up from cold in the straw and if you devour too hard and swallow a large amount, you end up with an almighty headache for a good three minutes. Milkshakes are high in fat and around 490 calories for a regular size. They smell and taste like melted ice cream, one of the tastiest menu items, shame I read about the chicken fat!
Apple pie: About 6 inches in length and 3 inches across. Comes inside a paper envelope and heated to such a high temperature that its impossible to eat for at least 20 minutes from ordering. The pastry case has the aroma of stale cooking oil with a synthetic apple substance as its main ingredient.
Other deserts include muffins, tray bake cake, doughnuts, Mcflurry (ice-cream with various toppings), fruit jelly and for a limited period, the Mac Muddle. A healthier option is the fruit bag selection but I have yet to see anyone actually eat this whenever I have been inside a Mac's.
The usual tea, coffee and hot chocolate are offered in polystyrene cups. The tea and coffee are foul, the only somewhat bearable drink is hot chocolate. The milk comes in small cartons and is synthetic and tasteless. I always opt for the bottled water or Tropicana orange juice. The coke is water based but pleasantly refreshing on a hot summers day.
For a limited period they introduce a "special" such as the Mc Rib and Hot Dog.
******PRICES AND HOW TO PAY ************
These range from £1 upwards. A child's happy meal is £1.99 and for that you get either a burger, nuggets or fish with small fries and drink plus a toy of some description. Recently Mac's have tried to change their menu by offering healthy options, so instead of fries your child can have carrot sticks. Instead of cola, they can have Tropicana or Volvic water. The happy meal is placed inside a paper box with a carry handle perfect for little hands.
A value meal is similar to the happy meal but without a toy and on a bigger scale. This is £2.99 upwards as you can go "large" for more money if you so wish. This is usually 50 pence extra. There are too many items for me to list individually, but expect to pay around £4 for each full adult meal. Items can be bought individually.
Some diners take credit and debit cards but this is not spread across the country yet. The debit card point is on its own and there is a large sign above the cash till saying they accept card payments there. If you see a MasterCard sign on the entrance door, it doesn't automatically mean they take card payments, it could be that there is just a cash point inside. Cash points inside Mac's are not free and £1.75 is debited from your bank account just to gain access to your own money. Try and pay by cash already taken from your bank account prior to entering the establishment.
***** TOILETS ******
The W.C. is only for customer use, so don't sneak in from the high street without spending a penny so to speak, otherwise you might be challenged before you exit the doors. Not many Mac's have proper sinks with taps. The trend seems to be a wall-mounted bowl that automatically trickles out enough soap, water and hot air to clean your hands. Not great for young children as the bowls are set too high. The toilets are
Pictures of McDonald´s
not clean to my standards though they are checked at intervals. There is usually baby changing but it is always situated in cramp conditions. The fold down tray needs a good anti bacterial substance on it and I would not use it without a baby-changing mat. The majority of Mac's have disabled toilets and occasionally this is shared with the baby-changing unit. These toilets are always open with full facilities such as a grab rail and panic alarm. ***** THE STAFF******
Well there are plenty of them, some with five stars on their badges and some with none. Those just starting out on the Mac's career path look completely devoid of character and a complexion that matches a sufferer of chicken pox. The uniforms are dull and boring, unless you are a manager with a pressed cotton shirt and tie. Most of the staff appear somewhat miserable and everything is done on autopilot. You know if you are fortunate enough to be told "have a nice day", that the words just don't come from the heart. The atmosphere is incredibly stress full in the kitchen, as there appears to be more organ grinders than monkeys. I actually pity the staff, because I would never wish to work in such an environment. To give them their credit, they look as if they are keeping the diners washed, and wiped. I would love to inspect a table under a microscope lens after its been cleaned though. Bins are emptied when they feel like it and floors are mopped usually at the busiest times. Word of advice - always check your orders as it's quite rare you get everything correctly, something is normally missing.
**** THE WEBSITE *****
www.macdonalds.co.uk gives you a full nutritional table on your own selected meal. A normal value meal is around 1000 calories, a women's healthy amount of calories for the entire day, not just a meal. You can access press releases and a kid's zone with games and competitions online too. There are also submenus that detail the ingredients and how Mac's are improving their quality of food and how they are doing their bit for the environment.
***** A CAREER IN MACS *****
If you wish to apply for a role in one of the diners, then either apply online or ask the branch manager for an application form.
*** TO CONCLUDE *****
McDonald's have come a long way since they first began in the 1970's, as they are now totally upfront about ingredients inside their food. There has been a lot said about the lack of company ethics but of course they have denied all allegations. All sorts of leaflets are on display and available to the customer, listing the nutritional values for each item. I am still not totally convinced my children or I are eating a healthy meal from this establishment but they have improved. If you want something quick or just to keep the little ones happy, then this must be your last resort. Free refills of all drinks would also be added incentive to return, something the rival Burger King introduced many years ago. Also the return of the birthday parties, they were such good value and the children were thoroughly entertained.
Though I am not a dedicated fan of the restaurant chain or a devout customer, it's basically a port in a storm when you're out with the children. They are pleased to be getting a toy with their food and you can have a quick sit down and sneakily eat that sandwich which has just been bought from the shop round the corner!
Macs's to recommend: Fleet Services, off M3 Hampshire A40, Oxford Road, Denham, Bucks. Ruislip High Street, Middlesex. Larnaca (near Woolworth's) Cyprus. Weymouth High Street, Weymouth.
Ones I avoid: Uxbridge Town centre, Middlesex Lombardy retail park, Hayes Hayes Town, Station Road, Middlesex. Basingstoke Town centre Knightsbridge (nr Harrods), London