By PLAYBOOK STUDIO Brand Strategist, Caneel Eddy

As of November 21, 2022, there are 13,345 McDonald’s locations in the United States. Globally, McDonald’s is the leading foodservice retailer (and one of the most widely-known brand names) with more than 38,000 locations in over 100 countries. With these staggering numbers, it is easy to see how McDonald’s can lay claim over the concept of “fast food.” Unsurprisingly, the United States has the most McDonald’s of any country, by a factor of nearly 4x. While you could argue that this is simply due to the fact that McDonald’s was founded as a U.S. company, there is something quintessentially and undeniably “American” about fast food in general, and specifically, our country’s beloved and abundant golden arches.

As a country that operates in a near constant state of on-the-go, fast food provides a solution to the age-old conundrum of how to refuel while taking up the least amount of time possible. Culturally, America has not been known to hold food and the experience of eating a meal in high regard, at least in the way that many other cultures around the world do. In France for example, the average working lunch break is nearly 2 hours. This is in stark contrast to American corporate lunch culture where most people are lucky to get 30 minutes, if they choose to actually take a break and not eat at their desk. In many parts of India, it is a common practice to eat with one’s fingers rather than utensils. By touching the food that is about to be consumed, many Indians believe that a physical and spiritual connection is created, allowing the diner to be fully present in the moment and appreciate the meal before them. And while one of the appeals of McDonald’s cuisine is that most everything on the menu does not require cutlery to eat, it is certainly not with the intention of encouraging patrons to forge a spiritual connection with their 10-piece McNuggets.

Another aspect of fast food culture that can be particularly felt at McDonald’s is the feeling of equality. Something about Mickey D’s seems to level the playing field; no one is “too good” for this food. Whether you’re a single parent struggling to make ends meet, a corporate executive running to the next meeting, a broke college student, a party-goer caught somewhere between the drunchies and breakfast, or hell, even the President of the United States, McDonald’s has a seat in the dining room – or spot in the drive-through lane – waiting for you. In a world that judges your every move, there is a certain comfort in knowing that when you approach those golden arches, you’ll never be out of place. Feeling self-conscious about that SuperSized BigMac order? No worries – the guy before you ordered two and ate them both in one sitting, bless his heart (literally). Most McDonalds’ even have those convenient parking spots positioned right after the drive-through exclusively for people who wish to devour their happy meals in the privacy of their vehicles. Everything about this establishment seems to say, “go ahead, indulge yourself,” and I think that’s beautiful. 

And to those who look down on McDonald’s in the name of health, preferring to shell out $22 for a kale salad from Sweetgreen, more power to you and your unclogged arteries, but you’re a liar if you say you’ve never gotten down & dirty with the Dollar Menu.