McDonald’s offers customers low coffee prices, bathrooms, and plentiful table and seating space. Cost-conscious customers have adopted McDonald’s as a “coffeehouse for the people, sort of everyman’s Starbucks.” In any given McDonald’s, the tables might be filled with older consumers seeking social activity, students trying to do homework or hanging out, and homeless people escaping the weather. This lingering has increased McDonald’s café culture. Many customers are giving themselves permission to linger at McDonald’s even with just a $.99 purchase of coffee. This has created a new frustration for managers and franchise owners as their regular and loyal customers are often taking room and time away from other customers.
Recently, tensions between McDonald’s managers and customers erupted in New York when a McDonald’s manager called the police on a group of older patrons who weren’t leaving the restaurant. The group responded with outrage and organized a boycott of McDonald’s. A truce was eventually negotiated by local politicians, but the experience shed light on an increasing problem for McDonald’s. One customer, for example, admits that he “doesn’t eat fast food,” and that he just goes to McDonald’s to deal with his junk mail. In another McDonald’s, a group of friends who grew up in the neighborhood hang out at McDonald’s because they’re “accustomed to being there.”
McDonald’s has issued a public statement that it is “pleased many of its customers view McDonald’s as a comfortable place to spend time,” and that customers enjoy the benefits of the free Wi-fi and children’s play areas. However, analysts wonder if the leisurely café culture is sustainable for the fast food business model. McDonald’s has no official time limit policy. Some franchises have posted signs asking patrons to leave after 30 minutes. Most individual franchisees are encouraged to do what is best for their communities.
1. Should stores like McDonald’s and Starbucks allow customers to stay as long as they like as long they have purchased something?
2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of limiting loitering?
Source: Sarah Maslin Nirjan, New York Times, January 27, 2014