For the second time in many years, the freshman in my course CSOC 117: The Anthropology of Food and Eating took over a local McDonalds. Thanks to Kim Maher, a UPS alumnus and the Local Store Marketing Director for McDonalds, we were invited to come and attempt to operate one of the franchises here in Tacoma. For the past several weeks, the class had been reading James Watson’s book Golden Arches East. In that book, anthropologists use the ethnographic toolkit to explore McDonalds entry into Asia. The chapter authors examine the cultural variations in how people in Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong think about McDonalds and its food, the variations in who makes use of the restaurant, and how McDonalds goes about accommodating a variety of expectations and food choices.
We thought that a great way to cap this reading would be to spend time working in a McDonalds. With Kim’s invitation, we took over the McDonalds on Tacoma Avenue (and across the street from the jail). Students ran the cash register, stuck hamburger buns in the toaster, ran the “to-go” window, and swept the floors. With some guidance, student Parker Raup even tackled the task of cleaning the bathrooms. Overall, I think we agreed that operating a McDonalds was a bewilderingly complex task. We struggled to manage even the most basic of tasks, and it seems likely that without the steady guidance from the employees we would have failed altogether!