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The Battle of the Burgers
On a desolate two-lane thoroughfare in the middle of rural New York, a McDonald’s sits across the street from a Burger King.
Strange, I know. One would think that fast food restaurants selling the exact same products would try to stay as far away from each other as possible. If you’re the only burger joint within a five-mile radius, you’re likely to attract a lot of customers, especially if you’re built in a convenient location. Motorists and soccer moms will come flocking to your door. You can expect your heaping stacks of prepackaged chicken nuggets to be devoured in minutes. Your cash registers will overflow with one-dollar bills, and after a couple years, you’ll actually make a profit. Ladies and gentlemen, this is business at its finest, a model for success most commonly referred to as “basic economic strategy.”
Clearly, though, McDonald’s didn’t get the memo, because by situating itself across the street from Burger King, it theoretically halved its clientele from the get-go. I guess the idea was to provide the BK Lounge with some friendly capitalistic competition, but the sheer caliber of illogicality that came with such a bone-headed decision must have effectively negated any rational objectives. Now all that’s left is a wholly dysfunctional, middle-of-nowhere rivalry between two restaurants selling food that is unfit for human consumption. Congratulations to both parties on that.
Of course, it may well have been Burger King that made the bad call. Does it matter? Both eateries are suffering as a result. And to make matters worse, the employees are not the only ones who are paying the penalty; the scenario is forcing prospective customers to make decisions that, frankly, they shouldn’t have to.
For example, pricing. Fast food should be cheap, but as a patron, I’d like to know which place is cheaper. Now usually, restaurants that need to defrost their own food will display their best offers on banners against the windowpanes. Should be pretty straightforward, right? But if McDonald’s offers 18 nuggets for $4.99, and Burger King offers 12 nuggets for $3.99, they’re making me do the math to figure out which one’s better! That’s quite a hassle for a box of chicken, and as a weary wanderer on the road, I don’t appreciate it.
The size of the playground must also be considered. If the kids’ area looks fun and relatively expensive to assemble, it’s an automatic stamp of quality in my book; a restaurant that holds families so highly in regard is obviously more client-friendly. Unfortunately, though, such a setup as the one I encountered in the middle of the New York countryside obliges passerby not only to inspect two different playgrounds, but to compare them. I mean, come on. One would hope that I have better things to do than critique slides in jungle gyms.
What really stinks is that you’re required to take these factors into account and come to a conclusion quite literally within a split-second, because when you’re cruising through the country at sixty miles an hour and two Crayola-colored buildings pop up around the corner, you’re gonna have to know where you’re going the moment you slam on the breaks, unless you want to get rear-ended by the car behind you. Don’t let that happen; the poor guy wasn’t planning on stopping for fries, let alone taking a trip through his windshield.
In case this still seems to be a manageable procedure, the woes don’t end there. One must deal with several other decision-making factors that cannot be determined simply by looking at the buildings. For instance, I’d like to know how many health violations each restaurant has. It’s my right as a customer. Problem is, most places don’t tend to post those kinds of things proudly on their windows (“Welcome to McDonald’s; come meet our termites!”).
Well, what about general cleanliness? If I’m waiting at the counter for a Big Mac, I don’t want to be resting my hands on wet lettuce bits and puddles of Coca-Cola. Or if I’m sitting at a table, enjoying my freshly thawed beef n’ bacon sandwich, I don’t want my elbows to get creamed by a 4-year-old’s leftover ketchup. That’s just disgusting. Yet I would never know these things unless I entered a building, and that would involve making a decision prematurely. I don’t wanna do that.
All in all, though, I think the worst part about this absurd and unreasonable state of affairs is that it was very much avoidable. Both chains had the whole of Nowhereville, New York, with all its open fields and pastures, its free and unobstructed space, to colonize. You’re talking about pitting worldwide corporations against small-town farmers; kind of like sharks versus shrimp. The two companies would’ve had all the land they needed, had they only bothered to spread out.
But I suppose I’m glad they didn’t, because the farmers get to live to see another day. We as customers may sacrifice our sanity so that the country folk keep their fifty acres of pavement-free property, but it’s the right thing to do. Plus, we’ve been allowing McDonald’s and Burger King to make hundreds of billions of dollars each year by selling some of the lowest-quality food on Earth. Let’s face it: we’ve had it coming.