McDonald’s Chinese owner deserves better publicity

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McDonald's in Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Photo: Google Maps

It is amazing how much Hong Kong people care about McDonald’s these days. The name usually pops up when one wants to fill an empty stomach.

The world’s biggest fast-food chain arguably has the cheapest combo in the city at HK$24 (about US$3) at a time when a decent beef-noodle bowl costs twice as much.

That is perhaps why journalists often pick up good stories hanging around McDonald’s on a slow day, such as the period around New Year’s.

Almost no Hong Kong daily missed the story that McDonald’s had raised the prices on its food menu by an average of 2%. Most splashed the sensational headline that a medium-sized cola would go up by 20% to HK$6.

And every time McDonald’s Hong Kong starts a promotion, such as the recent two-week availability of nine McNuggets for HK$10, it coincides with a price rise for other products. (Perhaps it should be noted that the cheapest combo remains only HK$24, and Filet-O-Fish is unaffected at HK$11.)

Still, it does not take an economist to figure out that McDonald’s rivals charge even more for equivalent meals on the back of rising rental an labor costs – all contributing to 3.6% growth in Hong Kong’s gross domestic product last year.

In fact, one could even argue that Chinese investment company CITIC, which paid more than US$2 billion for an 80% stake in the 1,500 McDonald’s restaurants in Hong Kong and mainland China last year, is holding down the ring of the cash registers in favor of its local customers.

Perhaps McDonald’s knows how hard it is to satisfy customers. Over the weekend, Hong Kong papers reported on an internal circular on the fast-food chain’s new policy to limit the choices of its customers. Starting on December 27, staff would turn down customers’ requests that a two-piece chicken order consist of both wings or both drumsticks; they must accept one of each. They also could not request more or fewer nuts on their ice-cream sundaes, but could choose to have no nuts at all.

The new measures aimed to improve efficiencies at the counter, which are relying more on automation, especially on food ordering. But the new move stirred up criticism online because of its inflexibility.

Adding to the controversy were the complaints by some customers that the offer of peanut-butter freebies for ordering a full-meal breakfast was misleading, and the free items much smaller than what the poster displayed.

Of course the poster photo was for reference only, but the complaints, along with the queues of customers, just kept on coming.

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