In bed with McDonald's
The first ever McDonald's hotel, the Golden Arch in Zurich, is surprisingly tasteful - if you overlook the porn channel on the in-room TV. Sarah Turner checks in for its opening night, and explores the attractions of McDonald's for travellers of all types.
The most obvious clue to the
hotel's ownership comes with the headboard. When I told a friend
I was going to the McDonald's hotel he asked me, aghast, if I would
be sleeping under the Golden Arches. I am, but this arch is sleek
and wooden, tooled with equal measures of design nous and wit, making
you smile rather than wince. Who'd have thought that the Golden
Arch Hotel would be so very arch?
The second clue
comes with the shower, a stylish opaque glass pod. I'm just about to
wash my hair when I realise that there's only a soap dispenser. Typical,
somehow, from the organisation that always makes you ask for ketchup
to go with your fries.
Within sight of
Zurich Airport, the Golden Arch Hotel is the first to be opened by the
McDonald's corporation. There are 211 rooms, with an Aroma Cafe (the
chain bought by McDonald's last year) at the entrance and a branch of
the restaurant to the side.
is certainly a far cry from Ronald McDonald's red and yellow plastic playground.
Several acres of sustainable wood must have been felled to create this Conranesque
vision. Designed along Feng Shui principles, according to the press release,
it's all curvy walls, neutral colours and snowy white linen. The TV also
allows you to surf the net and check flight times at the airport. The bed
is impressively high-tech, with a motor to raise and lower different bits
of the mattress. Safety has been addressed as well. The lifts operate only
after verifying room keys and all the doors have spy holes. And, as might
be expected, the loo more than meets the high standards set by McDonald's
restaurants around the globe.
aren't the cash cow they once were and McDonald's has realised that it
must diversify in order to maintain profits. In Britain it has the Aroma
Cafe chain and has just bought 33 per cent of Pret A Manger. The Golden
Arch Hotel is the Swiss solution. It is aiming for the business traveller
during the week, with special family rates at the weekend.
first night, there was just one child guest - two and a half-year-old Gabriel
Hutschneker. "He talked about nothing else on the way here," says his father
Michael, a journalist covering the opening. (Luckily, the family live in
Zurich.) For the photographers and film crews, Gabriel patiently goes through
the check-in procedure several times as the First Child to Stay at a McDonald's
Hotel. It's hard to know what he makes of the bar, with its leather chairs
and sleek modernist water sculpture.
Arch is aggressively targeting the business traveller; a four-star hotel,
it represents a seismic shift upmarket for the burger chain. Urs Hammer
is the chairman of McDonald's in Switzerland and a former hotelier. It was
his idea to create the Golden Arch Hotel. Over dinner he assures me that
McDonald's and the Golden Arch share the same values. "Cleanliness. Take
the flooring, for in- stance. Most hotels carpet the floors, we went for
maple wood -it's more hygienic. And value for money - McDonald's has always
been known for that." Costs at the Golden Arch will be kept down by doing
away with the things that Hammer sees as unneccessary - there are no minibars
or room service. Chain hotels are cheaper than one-offs and the second Golden
Arch opens next week in the Swiss town of Lully. There are also plans to
open a third in Geneva.
Later that night,
while playing with the different bed positions - hugely diverting - I
fiddle with the TV, trying to access my e-mail. Instead, porn fills the
screen, and there's nothing soft-core about it. I feel a bit piqued that
they can pump it out free of charge but haven't managed to provide shampoo
- just one mean-minded soap dispenser.
Next morning, when
I raise the matter, a quartet of suited McDonald's PRs assure me that
an automatic block is put on the porn channel whenever a family checks
into a room. I'm sure they will. I'm also sure they'll make it clear that
the soap dispenser is also shampoo because McDonald's does whatever it
takes to get a formula right.
formula that has played a key part in the lives of most of us when we travel
abroad, however much we may profess to loathe the chain. "When I'm travelling,
I always use McDonald's loos," says 33-year-old Matthew Singh-Toor from
London, who has just returned from travelling in Australia and New Zealand.
"Eating there is unimaginative and vapid. In countries like India it markets
its food to locals as sophisticated and hip but just delivers fatty Western
food, The expansion of McDonald's is so relentless it's in danger of homogenising
the world. I use the loos as a politi- cal protest."
Sue Wheat of Tourism
Concern shares his worries: "If tourists use foreign-owned restaurants,
apart from the jobs they provide, it doesn't benefit local people. If
you're travelling with a conscience there are far better places to eat.
Anyway, culturally, what's the point of travelling halfway around the
world to a rich and varied culture to end up having a burger in McDonald's?"
Indeed, it can be more than mildly disappointing to arrive in a country
in search of local colour , only to find it is a profusion of yellow and
red. A new branch of McDonald's opens every five hours. At the last count,
the golden arches have spread from the US to l19 countries, from Canada
(the first) to American Samoa (last year). Travel the world today and
you invariably find that McDonald's has got there first.
Go into a McDonald's
abroad and you'll find it full of backpackers sucking thoughtfully on
their extra thick milkshakes. Britons under the age of 35 are part of
the McDonald's generation. Our teens are excited when we learn that German
branches serve beer. Few of us will have needed John Travolta in Pulp
Fiction to tell us that the French call a Quarter Pounder a Cheeseburger
Royale. I can order a Big Mac in a variety of languages (in France, for
example, avec un shake) - even the most hopeless linguist will not starve
in a McDonald's.
Eating at one isn't
adventurous, but it's highly unlikely to give you food poisoning either.
Flying back from Washington DC in January, I had the choice of a cheerful-looking
local Chinese or a Burger King at the airport. In a rare moment of anti-globalisation
fervour I chose the former and spent the next two days in a bathroom,
contemplating my folly. Fear of litigation alone keeps big fast-food companies
such as Burger King and McDonald's hygiene conscious.
other attractions for travellers - women in particular. They are well-lit,
an important consideration in a strange city late at night, and the food
And a trip to McDonald's
can save a family holiday. "A McDonald's at the right place, at the right
time can be like an oasis in the desert for a stressed-out family," says
travel writer Andrew Eames, 42, a regular contributor to these pages.
"Once we had been staying at a series of chateaux in France. When we turned
up at the last one near Dieppe, the owner told us that they didn't normally
take children - and that we wouldn't be eating until 9.3Opm. Her husband,
who did the cooking, lost his temper when we asked for a sandwich. We
got back into the car, and I deposited my wife and the children at a McDonald's
while I found us somewhere else to stay."
Just imagine how
the tension would have been eradicated if there'd been a Golden Arch Hotel
nearby. Gabriel, now wearing a McDonald's baseball cap, is still giddy
from the excitement of sleeping in a McDonald's bed. Or, in fact, being
too excited to sleep, his slightly weary parents tell me. For him, staying
at the Golden Arch Hotel ranks with being locked overnight in a sweet
I'm not yet convinced
that the Golden Arch will manage to appeal to both business travellers
and families. The Golden Arch's only eating option is McDonald's. It will
probably be easier to make sure a family doesn't see the porn channel
than it will be to eradicate a business' traveller's mental block about
an expense account Big Mac.
This sleek new face
of McDonald's is surprising, but turning the brand name into a hotel chain
makes sense. You will never get cheated in a McDonald's. You can be anonymous,
you won't feel stigmatised for eating alone, you are unlikely to get food
poisoning and you will be safe - but you will never escape the feeling
that in eating or staying there you're being even more predictable than
Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia,
The unlikely tourist
destinations of Albania (see page 5) and Afghanistan. The ethically iffy
Burma. Most of Africa; McDonald's has a toehold in South Africa but has
made little impact on the rest of the continent. Mauritius Will get its
first McDonald's in July this year.
In America, Woodstock
in New York State. Thirty years after the festival that took its name,
this town still doesn't look kindly on chain stores (the exception being
Ben & Jerry's ice-cream).
Fairbury , Illinois.
Site of a celebrated fight between the McDonald's corporation and a family
restaurant of the same name (proprietor: Ronald McDonald) that had been
trading for more than 50 years, The Golden Arches eventually moved elsewhere,
citing lack of business.
a prolonged campaign that kept McDonald's out of Katoomba in New South
Wales, the corporation is rumoured to have abandoned plans to open in
Byron Bay, the hippy surfer haven.
Bermuda. The island
once had a branch of McDonald's on the US Navy base. Locals could visit
on Wednesdays but when the US Navy withdrew, so did the restaurant.
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