Wednesday, March 12, 2003

McDonald's and Coffee

Glenn Reynolds comments

Last week I wrote that smart businesses would soon start offering free wireless internet service as a way of luring customers. This week, McDonald’s, and some other businesses, announced that they would be doing just that. Coincidence?

Well, yeah, almost certainly. But it’s cool. And I think it will bring in a lot of business. Interestingly, reader Manuel Colayco emails that McDonald’s offers Starbucks-like “McCafes” in Hong Kong and Manila, featuring comfy chairs and a soothing, adult-oriented decor rather than red and yellow plastic. Bring them over here!

My Australian readers will be aware that McCafes have existed in McDonald's in Australia for quite a few years (since around 1995, I think). This easily predates Starbucks entry into the Australian market. (They opened their first store in 2001). I think Australia is where the McCafe concept originated. Australia got a sophisticated coffee culture from Italian immigrants in the 1950s and Australians are extremely fussy about coffee. Conventional McDonald's coffee was never something Australians were happy with, so McDonald's innovated. Australia is the only place in the Anglosphere that got its coffee culture directly from Italy rather than via Seattle, and because of this Australian coffee is somewhat different to that you get in London or New York. Australians drink coffee in smaller cups, our baristas tend to swirl the milk a little less, and we have completely different terminology.

McDonald's are clearly spreading the McCafe concept around the world. I saw my first one in London a couple of weeks ago, near Victoria station. The colour scheme and the comfy chairs are the same as in Australia, but some of the terminology used to name the different coffees is a little more Starbucks like than in Sydney. I am guessing that McCafes will be seen in the US before long, if they are not there already.

Update: Matthew Walker provides a link to this press release which makes it clear that it was McDonald's Australian operation that invented McCafes, and that they did so in 1993. Since then, McDonald's have been spreading them around the world, and there is one in Chicago. From this, I think we can deduce that although they are Starbucks like, the people who invented them were probably not influenced by Starbucks very much, if at all. In 1993, Starbucks were somewhat less than omnipresent, even in the US, and they did not open their first store outside North America until 1996.

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