In some ways, the rise of the McDonald’s franchise was directly linked to several of Modernism’s initial aims, perhaps most evidenced with the fast-food giant’s espousal of standardized methods of production and the literal and figurative transparency with which they were implemented. As we all know, McDonald’s spread throughout the world not on the merits of its culinary hubris but on the strength of its stated goal: the same food at the same price would be eaten in the same restaurant in every corner of the world. The first restaurants were all glass boxes, hermetically sealed from the grime and uncertainties of everyday life. Inside, you ordered your food, watched it being processed, sat down and consumed it – usually in the same time it took to prepare. Towards the end of the 60s, just like modernism, the chain took a post-modern turn, with a complete redesign that yielded the laughably pastiche but highly effective scheme that we all know and love (admit it) today. The company would continue to change, altering menus, promotional content, and even architecture to reflect local taste.
Take France, where most McDonald’s patrons spend twice the amount of money (around $9 a meal) than their American counterparts. As a result, the restaurant chain has integrated new, "contemporary" spaces into the formula. Whereas Americans prize efficiency above all else (in life as in McDonald’s), the French take their time, sampling exclusive items while sitting in custom made booths. The franchise recently commissioned a whole line of interiors to designer Patrick Norguet, who substitutes the kiddy red plastic of yore with a complex palette of materials, from concrete walls to sheet metal surfaces to laser-cut plywood ceilings.
Located in Villefranche-de-Lauragais, 40 km from Toulous, the store is the first in Norguet’s series, which seeks to rehabilitate the image of the McDonald’s restaurant – what has become primarily associated with teens – for the family. Mind you, this isn’t the American definition of the family, which diminishes the familial with the infantile, complete with children-oriented marketing and toy-like spaces. On the contrary, Norguet’s interiors are mature, with splashes of colors applied at intervals of white walls, substantial materials such as plywood cabinets and carefully-chosen upholstery, and even digital screens from which to place your order. Norguet’s own "Still" chairs are ubiquitous. Enclaves of familial privacy are created by means of full-height walls and circular booths, so that families may sit together enjoying their meal.
The sentiment may be applauded, but should we be given any more incentive to eat at McDonald’s? Regardless, the dominance of global fast-food is one of the conditions of our times, and one in which designers have to insinuate critical, intelligent work. Is this it? I’m not sure. But it’s a start.