a sociology investigation: mcdonald’s

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A mis lectores españoles: mi segundo correo para mi proyecto de blog español está por debajo de este correo.

A little over a week ago, my sociology teacher introduced an interesting outside-of-the-classroom assignment. The assignment entailed visiting a McDonald’s and observing the restaurant’s customers (dine-in and drive-thru) and employees. The following questions needed to be answered: How many customers enter the restaurant? What are the characteristics of the customers, such as age and social class? How many cars go through the drive-thru? What are the types of cars that go through the drive-thru? How many employees are working in the restaurant? What are the characteristics of the employees, such as age and position?

When I first arrived at the McDonald’s, around 12:40pm on a Sunday, there were fourteen customers in the store. Among these customers were two elderly couples, two men (mid to late twenties), two “couples” that encompassed what appeared to be a parent (elderly) and a son (middle-aged), one group that encompassed a teenage boy and two elderly women, and one elderly man who was seated away from the rest of the customers, on the other side of the restaurant. Throughout the rest of my observation period, approximately forty customers entered the restaurant. These customers encompassed a middle-aged father with his small (perhaps three or four-year old) daughter, a college-aged couple, a middle-aged couple, a grandmother-aged woman, and others. During my period of observation, approximately sixty cars went through the drive-thru. Like the customers, there was a wide range in “type” of vehicle. Older-model mini vans and cars, Toyota Priuses and Highlanders, pick-up trucks, and other vehicles used the drive-thru. Overall, the customers who dined in at this McDonald’s were of a variety of different races, dressed in casual clothing (except for two elderly women) and appeared to be of lower or middle class. However, because of certain types of vehicles, such as the Prius and Highlander, I would assume that customers of higher class also eat McDonald’s. I was surprised by the wide variety of ages of the dine-in customers, especially by the number of elderly people, but I was not surprised by the wide variety of races of the dine-in customers. It seemed that every possible “type” of customer (where age or race was concerned) dined in the restaurant. Finally, I was surprised that there were not more teen-aged customers, as I think fast food is popular with the teenage crowd. I do not think there was a most common customer. From the dine-in customers and the drive-thru customers, I assume that customers of all age, race, and social class dine at McDonald’s. However, I do think that customers of a lower social class chose to dine inside the restaurant, whereas customers of a higher social class chose to use the drive-thru.

There was also a variety of ages and races of employees but not as wide of variety as the customers. The employees of this restaurant appeared to be very efficient, getting along well, and mostly happy to be working. The following employees were working, totaling ten employees:
  • College-aged woman was working the cash register at the front counter
  • College-aged woman was working the drive-thru window as well as processing orders
  • College aged woman was processing orders
  • Man, mid twenties, appeared to process orders for the drive-thru
  • Man, mid to late twenties, appeared to be a manager, as he was standing with and supervising the other employees, but not entirely participating in processing orders or preparation of food
  • Man, late twenties, appeared to be a manager or supervisor (This employee seemed to be “higher up” than the previous man, as he seemed to be supervising and helping with orders; he seemed to “know the ropes” of the restaurant better than the previous man.)
  • Man, fifties, works the fries
  • Two college-aged men prepare food
  • Man, late twenties (older than the previous two men), prepares food
I do not think the day of my observation was a typical day for the restaurant; however, perhaps it was a typical Sunday for the restaurant. Throughout the work week and on Saturdays, I would expect the restaurant to be busier, and for more teenagers and parents with children to dine at the restaurant.
To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about completing this assignment, but I actually found it to be quite interesting!
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3 responses »

  1. Some speculations, Abby:

    1. Well-dressed elderly people might have been having lunch at McD after church.
    2. The middle-aged man might have been taking his mother out –the Sunday visit.
    3. The oldest employee has the worst job — making fries must be quite unpleasant. Did you get a sense of who seemed to be the career McD employees, in contrast to people who hope to be doing other jobs in a few years?
    4. Did you check the types of cars in the parking lot, to compare the cars (as an index of socioeconomic class) of the diners-in vs. drive-thru customers?
    5. Did you notice what people were ordering/eating? The elderly man by himself may have been someone with too much time on his hands. If he was eating a meal (slowly) or reading while eating, or other things to stretch out the time, that might be a good guess.

  2. Eating at MacDonald’s on a Sunday is rather unusual for me and my husband. Sunday is a stay home day usually. However, when we go to the nearest MacDonald’s during the week, the day and the time varies. We have seen people at breakfast who usuaully are in a hurry–going to work people—these are usually the drive threws. A little later it is noticed that the retired follow and meet with groups of other retirees–they sit and chat a while. Lunch time is a time for young mothers with young children who mayb go out for breakfast once in a while plus the usual working people who eat a quick lunch. As I said before we don’t eat at MacDonald’s often but to me the elderly seem so content and take their time eating–an ice cram for dessert. The workers are always friendly especially the middle-aged cleaning ladies. I am amazed at the amount of food people order and sitting outside waiting for my husband to get a to-go order I notice people of every class, and the unusuaul makes of vehicles. This is a brief note of my observation at MacDonald’s except for the late afternoon and evening hours.

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