Veronique mentioned the much-blogged-about Forbes piece on the success of McDonald’s in France. I’m here with three children, so I’ve given the subject some consideration. We don’t eat fast food at home — for many reasons, but living in Manhattan makes it less of an issue. But here it is easy to see the temptation. Restaurants are very expensive. There is a range, of course, but it starts high. Way higher than neighborhood places in Manhattan, for instance. And few places are truly child friendly. The French do not much like children. Restaurant meals are available at very limited hours. You want lunch — it had better be between 12 and 2. Miss that and you can have a snack — but only if you are in a place big enough to have a range of restaurant types. Dinner starts at 7, no matter that you missed lunch and want a burger or a salad at 5, not ice cream or a beer. And meals take forever. I like the leisurely lunch as much as any journalist, of course. But not with my kids, every day — which leaves us with grilled-cheese sandwiches, hold the ham. Oh, you can’t hold the ham? Thanks.
Finally, there is a lot of bad food in France — especially around tourist sites, including the great museums. I will not say what I paid for two sandwiches and two salads — all premade so unwanted ingredients could not be removed in advance — and a few soft drinks at the Louvre, after braving the crowds to see the Mona Lisa (which attracts tour buses full of people eager to take group pictures of themselves in front of the picture). There is much excellent food, of course. But who wants really excellent food every day? Sometimes you just want to get everyone fed and get on with your activities. Fast food exists because a mediocre, entirely predictable burger from McDonald’s is no worse than what you would get a certain percentage of the time at individual places that might not be as clean and certainly won’t be as quick. There is an obvious open niche for a service-oriented place that downplays the drama and provides reasonably healthy food in a clean setting. And as for the health claim — I don’t personally buy it. But I am currently in a region where every farmers’ market, farm stand, and café sells foie gras, duck confit, and excellent high-fat cheeses, and what passes for a vegetable in restaurants is potatoes sautéed in duck fat. A few carrot sticks and an apple and Mickey D wins that one — so no surprise that it’s doing well.