Supersized McLosses 

News item: OAK BROOK, Ill. (AP) — McDonald's Corp. announced the first quarterly net loss in its history Thursday, a $343.8 million deficit for the last three months of 2002.

Well, not quite. As it turns out, McDonald's losses resulted from some supersized write-offs that the company cashed in late last year.

Excluding those, revenue and operating earnings were up slightly. So there's no fear that you'll find yourself standing in an unemployment line behind a sad, baggy clown who smells suspiciously of french-fry grease.

Not yet, anyway.

McDonald's, and much of the rest of the fast-food industry, is indeed in a slump, which is one of the reasons for all the artful accounting in the final quarter of 2002.

Industry analysts, according to The Associated Press, said McDonald's is the victim of "problems with speed and service, a crowded restaurant market and growing consumer weariness with fast food."

Amen to that.

The food at fast-food outlets has never been particularly good. The advantages were speed and price. And it's been a long time since any of these joints could claim that the food or the service is "fast."

Think, for a moment, about the difference between ordering at a fancy French restaurant and the order concocted by the flake who's always right ahead of you at a fast-food joint:

Fancy French restaurant: "I'll have the pate de foie gras, duck … l'orange and a glass of the house Bordeaux."

Waiter, with nose in air: "Merci."

McWhomever's: "I'll have the bacon-mushroom-cheddar McMegaton double-cheeseburger, with onion, hold the mayo, large fries, supersize 'em, a fried apple pie, a McTub-o'-Coke, supersized, a side of chicken McNasties, with one honey-Dijon dipping sauce and one bourbon-barbecue, and extra salt and pepper. Oh, and a Disney-AOL Time Warner Third Dimension Warp Speed Krakulon Action Figure, preferably not the King Nebulon, 'cause I already have three of those. I want the other one, the one that looks like Wolf Blitzer."

Clerk, with finger in nose: "Would you like to try one of our new Cinnamon Cheddar Honey-Fried Pigs-on-a-Stick with that?"

And the industry wonders why consumers are "growing weary" of fast food?

Just getting through the menu is wearying. I haven't seen anything that complex nailed to a wall in a public building since my high school chemistry teacher posted the periodic table of the elements.

McDonald's started out, nearly half a century ago, with about five items on the menu: hamburger, cheeseburger, fries, Cokes, milkshakes. Arby's had about three.

Today, there's not a fast-food joint in town where it takes as long to eat the meal as it does to order it. Judging from industry performance, it appears that a lot of people are tiring of all the McGimmicks they have to fight their way through to get a simple burger and fries in a paper sack.

Unless the chains gravitate back toward what made them famous — quick, cheap, simple sandwiches in clean, safe surroundings — it could be a McVery long time before anybody supersizes the dividends on their fast-food stocks. S

© The Virginian-Pilot 2003

Dave Addis is a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. This column ran in the Virginian-Pilot.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.



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