BLOG – Burgernomics & Hong Kong’s Love Affair with McDonald’s 9


The Golden Arches landed in HK in on January 8th, 1975 and they’ve pretty much enjoyed a city-wide monopoly ever since. The original American grease-pushers are not so much a fast-food outlet as an institution here, being, as they are, so ubiquitous as the sole cheap, 24-7 Western food option for Hong Kongers.

Here is a glimpse of their 1980s menu and prices…

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge, via JasonLiebig on Flickr

In HK… “McDonald’s was the first restaurant to consistently offer clean restrooms, driving customers to demand the same of other restaurants and institutions.”  (Indeed, this gave rise to the pheneomena of the ‘McShit and lies’, whereby one enters a restaurant and informs the staff that you’ll make a purchase after using the facilities.)

They also spearheaded other changes in local culture – before their arrival, it was somewhat of a taboo to eat in public, especially on the streets of conservative HK. Plus, it apparently whipped people into shape with regards to the civilised notion of queuing.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge, via JasonLiebig on Flickr

Despite the relatively late arrival of KFC and Burger King to the territory, Ronald’s monopoly has meant the chain has not had to innovate or ‘reinvent’ itself in the same way it has in waning Western markets. In Britain and the US particularly, McDonald’s is trying to re-brand itself with a healthier image in line with changing attitudes to food.

HK branches have not been totally immune to evolving attitudes. They do offer salads in HK (though they’re rarely advertised). Also, there have been some highly tokenistic efforts to appear environmentally friendly, such as their laughable, short-lived and largely-ignored ‘No Straw Day’…

uOiiD.jpg (468×219)

There are many reasons behind the love affair with a chain which still remains an exclusive novelty in other parts of China. Like Ocean Park, McDonald’s is a nostalgic brand which people associate with their childhoods. But most of its local success stems from our existing addiction to fast food outright…

Source: ACNielsen, 2005

Source: ACNielsen, 2005

Furthermore, it remains so popular because it’s so affordable. The Economist rates the HK menu as the 2nd cheapest in the world. Their ‘Big Mac Index’ is “an informal way of measuring the purchasing power parity (PPP) between two currencies and provides a test of the extent to which market exchange rates result in goods costing the same in different countries.” 

Source: The Economist, 2012

Source: The Economist, 2012

This affordability is, in turn, partly down to the availability of cheap labour. McD’s were rightly held up as the poster-child for the city’s long-standing lack of minimum wage law.

In the years preceding 2011, they were notorious for paying workers less than $20 an hour. In 2006, activists hit the front page of the Ming Pao on International Worker’s Rights Day to highlight  the exploitative plight of fast food workers…

The handsome fellow on the left denied rumours he used to work for said chain

The handsome fellow on the left denied rumours he used to work for said chain

It is unfortunate that the consumption of such ‘faux food’ is normalised in HK and that – unlike in other countries – they are allowed to advertise to children, set up where-ever they wish and even build direct relationships with schools.

But even visitors and expats who’d normally avoid Macky D’s back home, find themselves succumbing to the instantly available, cheap cheerfulness of “Mak Kee”. You can even get McMarried, as so colourfully illustrated here by the bastions of journalism, Apple Action News…

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  • Chi

    I’m not saying I think McD’s evilness with it’s vast array of trans-fat and artificial meat is acceptable in anyway. They really are not helping with the health issues we have in HK. But one thing they are doing well is what the HK government is extremely poor at – providing public space, I often see elders sheltering from the heat with their newspapers and students covering the desk with books and notepads. I’m kinda glad McD can provide some use to our cramp city. I know they probably would rather have it differently, but I also think they can make the experience much more unpleasant if they really want to.  I think McD is evil, but at least they’re being of some use

    • twgrundy

      Can’t disagree with that – I guess, like with most things, there is good and bad.

  • Chi

    I’m not saying I think McD’s evilness with it’s vast array of trans-fat and artificial meat is acceptable in anyway. They really are not helping with the health issues we have in HK. But one thing they are doing well is what the HK government is extremely poor at – providing public space, I often see elders sheltering from the heat with their newspapers and students covering the desk with books and notepads. I’m kinda glad McD can provide some use to our cramp city. I know they probably would rather have it differently, but I also think they can make the experience much more unpleasant if they really want to.  I think McD is evil, but at least they’re being of some use

    • Tom

      Can’t disagree with that – I guess, like with most things, there is good and bad.

  • vinci Lee

    I think McDonalds has gotten alot of bad rep in the recent years, but it has played such a huge role in shaping and transition of the Chinese culture and western culture in the beginning years. 

    “James Watson, ed.  GOLDEN ARCHES EAST: MCDONALDS IN EAST ASIA. ” Is a pretty good read on what McDonald’s has done in Hong Kong. 
    http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=Us2SKv7RWJEC&lpg=PP1&hl=zh-TW&pg=PA81#v=onepage&q&f=false

    I remember they had all their burgers pre made before they switched to “assemble on order”, and unlike their counter parts in the US it actually worked better due to the volume of sales, pretty much in and out in 3 mins, now that was fast food.

  • vinci Lee

    I think McDonalds has gotten alot of bad rep in the recent years, but it has played such a huge role in shaping and transition of the Chinese culture and western culture in the beginning years. 

    “James Watson, ed.  GOLDEN ARCHES EAST: MCDONALDS IN EAST ASIA. ” Is a pretty good read on what McDonald’s has done in Hong Kong. 
    http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=Us2SKv7RWJEC&lpg=PP1&hl=zh-TW&pg=PA81#v=onepage&q&f=false

    I remember they had all their burgers pre made before they switched to “assemble on order”, and unlike their counter parts in the US it actually worked better due to the volume of sales, pretty much in and out in 3 mins, now that was fast food.

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