The Implications of Exporting a Drive-Thru Culture
By Al McClain
By now, you’ve likely read that McDonald’s is partnering with a state-owned Chinese petroleum company, Sinopec, to open fast food restaurants at some of 30,000 gas stations in
China. The announced plan is to open 100+ outlets with drive-thru’s in China per year for as long as the market will bear it.
This seems simple enough: China is in an extreme rapid-growth phase; the Chinese are buying cars at a record pace; Chinese consumers are becoming more and more Americanized –
i.e., in a hurry; multitasking; trying to make money, etc.
From a financial perspective, it’s a no brainer. Auto sales in China grew 30 percent last year
(USA Today). McDonald’s is partnering with a company that knows the real estate market and is adding 500 service stations a year (USA Today); China is the world’s
fastest growing car market (Bloomberg); and restaurant sales rose nearly 18 percent last year (Bloomberg).
Although McDonald’s presence in China is currently dwarfed by Yum! Brands KFC unit, it seems that this partnership has the potential to change that in a hurry. And, while only
one in five people in China regularly eat fast food (Access Asia research) and only 10 percent of fast-food meals in China are take-away (WSJ), McDonald’s is already averaging
30 percent drive-thru sales at its test units. One would think that Chinese consumers will embrace fast food drive thru’s just as they have cars over traditional bicycles.
Yet, there is more to think about.
According to the WSJ, only 10 percent of China’s fast-food restaurant business is take-away. With the idea of grab-and-go so foreign, it won’t be
enough for McDonald’s to pepper China with drive thrus; it’ll need to do a good bit of customer training. Restaurant place mats and flyers, for example, reportedly explain how
it all works: “A brand new way of dining. It’s fashionable and time-saving.” And TV commercials portray customers in the process of ordering, so people grasp the concept. McD’s
even has attendants stationed in parking lots to wave drivers toward the drive thru lanes.
Clearly, McDonald’s isn’t just importing American food; it’s paving the way to adoption by teaching American culture. A bit scary to have that responsibility,
don’t you think? And then, there is the issue of whether this is the best element of American culture to be exporting. But, thats another story. –
Al McClain – Moderator
cars in China? McDonald’s ready to roll – USAToday
- Drive-Through Tips for China – Wall Street Journal (sub.