Fast Food for Thought

Stefan Stern’s Business Life piece in today’s Financial Times makes me shake my head. An SVP at McDonald’s in Europe is circulating a petition to nix the term “McJob” from the dictionary. That senior executive, and the writer, contend that fast food restaurants are quality employers, offer progressive training programs, and support diverse teams. Stern holds up customer service training as a prime example and suggests that it’s behind McDonald’s 44 consecutive months of sales growths.

That’s all well and good. I can understand people coming to the defense of their industry. But looking at the promise and potential — much less the practices — of an industry solely by looking at the numbers on the books (gender equity, economic growth) doesn’t always show you the full story. Stern would be well served to spend some time behind the counter. So it’s to his credit that he title drops Jerry Newman’s new book My Secret Life on the McJob.

I’ve yet to read the book, but I read a review on the way to work this morning that suggested the book is worth reading for two reasons. One, it highlights some of the challenges facing fast food restaurants: low pay, poor management practices, inadequate training, and racial tensions. And two, it doesn’t just dwell on the plethora of front-line experiences on which the book is drawn — Newman, a professor at SUNY-Buffalo, worked at a number of fast food joints for two years while researching the book — it spins the stories to suss out some solid leadership lessons and ideas.