Forget the Grinch, kids. Gather ’round to hear a new holiday tale of woe: How Ronald McDonald Stole Christmas.
Yep, it looks like employees of the nation’s biggest burger chain are about to get royally Scrooged this year.
According to internal company memos obtained by Ad Age, McDonald’s is strongly urging its franchisees to keep the fryers sizzling on Christmas Day. In one memo, Jim Johannesen, chief operating officer of McDonald’s USA, calls it “our largest holiday opportunity as a system.”
Now that’s the Christmas spirit!
So why has the home of the Happy Meal suddenly turned all “bah-humbug”? It all started in October, when McDonald’s posted its first monthly decline in global sales in nine years.
Then the chain seemed to spectacularly rebound in November. It’s dirty little secret? More stores than ever stayed open on Thanksgiving, leading to what Ad Age and company insiders say was an extra haul of $36 million, at least enough to account for a whole percentage point of the 2.5 percent growth in U.S. sales McDonald’s posted in November.
One industry consultant and former McDonald’s franchisee calls the move a big cultural shift. “Thanksgiving was never open. Then 15 or 16 years ago, some started staying open. [As recently as five or six years ago] you would never even talk about being open on Christmas...”
Call it “pulling out all the stops” (as Ad Age does), or just plain desperation. In its ever-pressing need to grow, grow, grow in order to please Wall Street, McDonald’s has been keeping its stores open later, trying to milk more business out of, say, the midnight hours that were once ceded to convenience stores catering to college kids with a serious case of the munchies.
“[McDonald’s] kind of maxed that out—all the restaurants that made sense to have open longer, they've already got those sales dollars,” one industry analyst tells Ad Age. ”These kinds of things have a limited-growth opportunity year over year.”
Don’t tell that to COO Johannesen, who boasts in his memo that last year, “[company-operated] restaurants that opened on Christmas averaged $5,500 in sales.” Now while numbers like that may warm the cold little heart of a bean counter (at least to the approximate temperature of a Chicken McNugget left under the heat lamp for an hour), to us it just sounds like an awful lot of sad souls spending Christmas sucking on eggnog shakes and staring blankly at a half-hearted draping of tinsel.
What’s worse, when asked whether employees who clocked in on Christmas would get paid overtime, a company spokeswoman told Ad Age, “when our company-owned restaurants are open on the holidays, the staff voluntarily sign up to work. There is no regular overtime pay.”
Where’s Cousin Eddie when you need him?
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Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council. He writes about food, sustainability and the environment.