What would the world be like -- without McDonald's?

Fading McDonald's sign illustration (Getty Images/Thinkstock)
Fading McDonald's sign illustration (Getty Images/Thinkstock)

McDonald’s might be celebrating its 60th anniversary in the United States this year, but it’s hard to imagine that many people are openly celebrating with them. In our health-obsessed society, it’s no longer cool to admit that you enjoy a Big Mac once in a while.

It’s obvious that people are still eating at McDonald’s, especially since the company currently operates over 36,000 restaurants worldwide, but there is a social stigma associated with the food.

Customers are not only concerned about the lack of nutritional density in the burger and fries. Over the past few years, rumours have surfaced about the quality of the ingredients being used in the food products at McDonald’s. The situation was so bad that last year the company launched a campaign that encouraged customers to raise their concerns in a public forum.

As part of the “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign, users were able to ask McDonald’s questions like “Do you use real apples in your apple pie?” and “How is it that a McDonald’s burger does not rot?” The campaign seemed to help clear up some of the popular misconceptions about the ingredients, however, with the proliferation of healthier fast food chains like Chipotle, many customers still see McDonald’s as an unhealthy option.

With all of this in mind, it might be tempting to envision a world without the Golden Arches. Especially now that “for the first time in more than 40 years, the number of McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. are shrinking.” Yet without this popular fast food restaurant, and its long history of business success, it’s possible that chains like Chipotle wouldn’t exist today.

John Gordon, a chain restaurant analyst from San Diego, California, has studied McDonald’s for several years. He says that the company influenced several newer restaurants, including Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts and Tim Hortons.

“McDonald’s started in suburban United States, and it really set the standard in terms of fast food operations,” said Gordon.

According to the McDonald’s U.S. website, the McDonald’s brothers met with businessman Ray Kroc in 1954, 14 years after the first McDonald’s Bar-B-Q had opened in California. The brothers were looking for a franchising agent to help them grow their business, and after talking with them Kroc apparently “had an epiphany” that lead to his future in hamburgers.   

Kroc opened his first McDonald’s location in 1955, in Des Plaines, Illinois. This is considered to be the first official year of operation for the McDonald’s company.

Kroc must have been doing something right, because by 1958 the company had already sold 100 million burgers. Gordon attributes the company’s success with creating “a consistent roadside food in the Untied States, concurrent with the growth of the interstate system.”

Gordon says the company proceeded to do well in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but then began to run into problems during the 1990’s because of too much expansion.

Between 1998 and 2003, McDonald’s launched a new kitchen operating platform and a new strategic framework, which aided in growing sales and increasing customer visits. Gordon says these systems and practices were key to the chain restaurant industry growing at such a fast rate. As McDonald’s found success with their new processes, other restaurants began to replicate those processes.

“If McDonald’s had never existed, we would not have well-organized and well-developed multinational chain restaurants,” said Gordon. “They would have grown, but they would have grown at a slower pace. In business, the fine art of copying just happens everywhere.”

James Doria, the son of the owner of Golden Star Burgers in Toronto, agrees that many businesses have copied what McDonald’s has done in the past.

“We took their idea and we made it different, to make our own,” said Doria. “That’s pretty much what everyone’s doing in the burger business. Everyone kind of took a piece out of their business model, and their production, and the way they do things in their restaurants.”

Doria acknowledges that McDonald’s “created the fast food realm with burgers and fries,” which helped to create new opportunities for other restaurateurs.

Doria’s grandfather, Frank Doria Sr., founded Golden Star Burgers back in 1964. Ever since the restaurant opened, the staff has been serving up fresh homemade burgers.

Like McDonald’s, Golden Star Burgers has a double-decker burger which they call the All Star Burger. They also have fish on a bun, which could be compared to the Filet-O-Fish. Doria claims that while the items might seem similar, the quality of the food at his restaurant isn’t like what you’d get a McDonald’s.

“We offer a homemade burger, actually made on site,” explained Doria. “It’s not frozen. Our French fries are fresh cut fries, are also not frozen. And we have an open kitchen concept where you actually get to choose what toppings you want on your burger.”