Tuesday, February 6, 2007

I'd like a non-fat, sugar free decafe latte and a Big Mac

Consumer Reports is about to release a report in their March 2007 edition that McDonalds has bested Starbucks for coffee flavor and drinkability. Well, being a Starbucks patron, I say: Starbucks-lower your price for a cup of coffee or else…I’m only buying one cup a day and not two!

McDs has come a long way since I worked there in 1983 and 1984, back in the day, when I had to walk to school, uphill, both ways… . Back then, every middle-class kid from the north side of town worked there, or had a friend or family member that worked there. I was working there before they had a drive-thru, and before anyone ever grabbed a chicken McNugget (and believe me, you don’t want to know which part is the McNugget!!!) 83 and 84 were banner years for McDs—they rolled out the McNugget, and the ever-popular “sausage McMuffin with egg” (as if you would want it without the egg? Otherwise, it’s just a fatty sausage patty on a buttered English muffin—defibulator, main dining area please!) There were some losers that year too (if you can believe it)—the McRib went into the McTank, and they scoffed at my idea…the McSushi. Easy to prepare-just cook the filet of fish for half the time, and serve it over a bed of shredded lettuce from the Big Mac…for some reason, management scoffed at me and didn’t run with it. I thought it was like a party in your mouth. But I digress…

Having worked in my Dad’s diner for a couple of years, I knew how to make coffee. One of the secrets of good coffee is to have an industrial coffee maker that was built around the industrial age, and had 100 years of coffee residue built up inside. I suppose the quality of the coffee has to be at least average, but you can take crappy coffee and run it through old coffee sludge, and that’s good drinking. Diner coffee is usually the best-strong, hot, bottomless (you all wondered how long it would take me to go there…) I’ll tell you who doesn’t know how to make coffee—anyone at McDonalds. In the old days, they had a single burner Bunn brand brewer, and you had to search for the foil packages that had pre-ground coffee to dump into the filter basket. This coffee was old—the miller ground it after his shift at the Sudbury Grist Mill. I worked a lot of hours there, and let me tell you, I think I brewed coffee once. No one bought coffee there; I know the machine was right next to the heater holding the pies (delightfully fruity and delicious pockets of lard)…we had a name for people that ordered the coffee-“suicidal.”

Over the past couple of years, no doubt McDonalds has seen their breakfast sales spiral downward with the proliferation of Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme and the like; to combat, they had to arm themselves, at least here in Massachusetts, by selling Newman’s Own blended coffee (and apparently, unlike when I worked there, the coffee isn’t as old as he is.) I hear its not bad, but there’s a method to their madness-you get people in for a cheap cup of decent coffee and the next thing you know, they’re buying an Egg McMuffin too. Of course, Starbucks has been sniffing this out—just last week, they rolled out their own version of a breakfast sandwich, at participating locations. Now, not only do you pay $1.94 for a large (20 oz.) cup, but also they give you the privilege of buying a breakfast sandwich for $2.95. At least the McMuffin is something like $1.09.

People often give me a hard time on the cost of Starbucks. My coffee costs $1.94, seven times a week. Some Dunkin Donuts charge $1.78 for the same size, some over $2.00, so its pretty much a wash. McDonalds is the “Walmart” of fast food, so they can leverage the coffee purveyors and only buy on the cheap, forcing coffee growers to send 5 year olds into the hills to pick coffee.

Consumer Reports doesn’t factor in the “experience”; that’s where Starbucks really shines. Starbucks wants you to savor your time with them. They provide comfy chairs, familiar music, “baristas” that know your name and your beverage choice. At McDonalds, you get hard plastic booths, dirty floors, Muzak and they can’t pronounce your name. Starbucks has a combination that cannot be beat; music, coffee, casual atmosphere…a quiet way to start your day.

Now, if only I could get fries with that…

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