180 degrees with McDonald’s Schweiz

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

4 September 2014

I don’t very often have a complete turnaround in my thoughts and perceptions (I suspect that’s the case with most people).  Fortunately, I went into my meeting last week with a very open mind and a lot of curiosity.

I hadn’t stepped foot into a McDonald’s since coming home from a rowing race in High School – when, en route back to Atlantic City from Philadelphia, the crew team would park in front of a collection of roadside fast food restaurants.  I would order the fried apple pie, French fries, a burger and, perhaps, even a milkshake.

I get more than a little nostalgic thinking back to that time of innocence, when nutrition was so far beyond our thoughts that we could eat with impunity.

Since then, I’ve watched from afar as McDonald’s has introduced new, more nutritional foods (salads and such), has ensured that they fry in vegetable oil and has continued to be a well-known brand representing our democracy all over the world.  In fact, two of the more iconic images of the spread of democratic values are of the McDonald’s in Tiananmen Square in China and the one in Red Square in Moscow (although the latter was recently temporarily closed by the Russians).

So that was my understanding going into the McDonald’s Swiss Headquarters (and then to their restaurant as well) in Cressier last week to meet with Harold Hunziker, Managing Director at McDonald’s Switzerland – along with Luca Sergi (franchisee in Ticino), Erika Böhm (franchisee in Lucerne), and Kurt Dallmaier (franchisee in Bern). By the time I left there, though, I had a whole new understanding of who, what and why they are doing what they’re doing – especially here in Schweiz!  Here’s a top 10 of what surprised and, more importantly, delighted me (note – I don’t have a great sense of what, among the below, is also present in the US – but it’s certainly present here in Switzerland).

  1. Grass Fed Beef: Because of Swiss law, they source 80% of their ingredients locally.  Therefore – all of their beef is grass fed, all of their buns are made from wheat grown here in CH, all of the lettuce and tomatoes are grown here in Switzerland, etc…
  2. Baked goods: They have one of their new McCafe’s at that shop – so I was able to see how they have a cute little coffee shop to obtain a lattes, espresso, Americanos, etc… along with a piece of carrot cake or other lovely baked goods.  In fact, they even had Macarons – or – shall I say “McMacarons”?
  3. Décor: While there’s something special about 1970s plastic, I do have to say that I prefer the new look that they have – much more chic, inviting, comfortable, and modern.
  4. Innovation and technology: They are testing self-service kiosks and, soon enough, will have apps with which to pre-order your food in advance of even getting to the restaurant.  I was impressed that they have a whole development team set up in Silicon Valley for this.
  5. Downsize Me: They’ve gotten rid of the supersized beverages and, in fact, have come up with a mini-McFlurry (ice cream) that’s half the size of the regular McFlurry and MUCH more popular and appealing to the Swiss audience
  6. A great and big employer: They are among the (if not THE) largest US-based employer here in Switzerland – employing more than 7,700 people.  Their 160 stores see more than 290,000 customers/day!
  7. The number 1 restaurant: I was blown away to learn that the Cressier McDonald’s is the #1 restaurant for McDonald’s in the world (note- that’s in revenue, not in volume).  I was also stunned to learn that it’s the #1 restaurant across all of Switzerland (among ALL restaurants).
  8. Doing right by women: of their stores, 48% have women managers (although women are still only 20% of owners).  Their amenability to part time work allows more women to progress up the corporate ladder.
  9. Lowering the Carbon Footprint: since 1991, they have lowered their carbon footprint by 41%.  Some of the ways in which they’ve done so including major efforts such as repurposing their own fry oil for use as biodiesel in their trucks and purchasing hydroelectric power.
  10. Community engagement: with a network of franchisees who have a deep knowledge of their local market, they’re able to really tap into the local community – sponsoring sports activities, supporting kids, etc…

Some of the great lines they shared with me during the meeting:

  • It’s no longer “fast food” it’s “Good food fast”
  • They are “born in the USA” and now “Made in Switzerland”

The big question is, with this new knowledge, will I actually go to a McDonald’s here in Switzerland?  You bet!  I look forward to meeting up with the Bern Franchisee owner Kurt Dallmaier and enjoying a salad and even, perhaps, a veggie burger (something they brought back here in Switzerland as a result of customer demand)!

Here are some of the other pictures of my visit.  Enjoy! And remember to keep your mind open in case you have an opportunity to learn something entirely new and counter to your previous impressions!  (a special thank you to Thomas & Anne – key members of Harold Hunziker’s team who really made it a great day!)