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Now reading I’m Not Lovin’ It

I’m Not Lovin’ It

Why would anyone post a review of McDonald’s on Yelp?

Thier_logo-loBillions and billions of hamburgers, and so many of them, to judge by the Yelp reviews, served to unhappy people. But why would anyone post a review of McDonald’s on Yelp? This is a question that people who post reviews of McDonald’s on Yelp often begin by asking. (“I’m not sure what is compelling me…” writes a Chicago customer). Sometimes the answer is that they want to warn other customers away, in the spirit of good citizenship:

“Oh my gosh… avoid this mcdonald’s if you can.” (St. Louis, Missouri)

“The backyard of an abandoned house is better and more functional than this one. STAY AWAY.” (Miami, Florida)

(Original spelling and punctuation are preserved, by the way, here and throughout).

Sometimes, the Yelp review is a chance to do some soul-searching. A customer at a location in Los Angeles writes: “As i get older and my diet becomes more important to me i will eventually have to give up eating at McDonald’s anyway. Its like i’m giving these people my money for poor treatment, and dirty looks, over food that’s killing me slowly.”

But, more often, customers write reviews because they feel the need to bear witness:

“The food at every McDonald’s is generic, but what is particularly special about this location is the terrible service.” (Miami)

“Be sure to get vaccinated before eating here.” (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

“There have been very few times in my life where I have felt as annoyed as I did at this fast food restaurant.” (St. Louis)

“Not sure if I’m being punked when I go here.” (the same St. Louis location)

“HORRIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !@#!@#!@#!@#!” (Los Angeles)

At first I thought I’d try to find the worst McDonald’s in my own metro area, but this turned out to be impossible. There is more than one location, for instance, where lots of customers report getting physically stuck:

“Well actually I sat trapped in the drive thru for over thirty minutes with the line not moving, and my car not able to escape the raised drive thru. At one point an older male employee came to the first window, stood there, looked at me and laughed.” (Coral Gables, Florida)

But there’s another location in Miami that one reviewer describes this way: “Guys, it’s a McDonald’s on the Medical Campus NEXT to the prison. Of course it’s going to be dirty…”

And here’s a review of one in Flagami: “I usually like a quick breakfast at McDonald’s because my schedule can be busy. When I went to sit down at the booth, there was human feces under the table.” He ends with a stern admonishment: “By 8:00 am all the floors should be immaculate.”

Look at another city and you see the same thing. McDonald’s is everywhere and every location serves disappointment. Here’s one in Detroit:

“They give me the stinkeye when I order.”

“FEMA should be called about the way the bathrooms look.”

“Not your regular line but one that resembles that of a gulag feeding line”

“This is not so much a fast food restaurant as it is a waiting room for Hell… The wait is that of a Soviet era bread line.”

At another Detroit location, a reviewer marvels: “There’s not enough space to describe this place. Maybe I need to start a blog about it.” He has an easy, fluent prose style. He should start a blog. One thing he observes is that the sign has fallen over: “Hey, things happen, only this thing happened a year ago, maybe two years, I’m not running the clock on it.” The sign is still on the ground, but someone has been mowing and weed-whacking around it. A melancholy thought: weed-whacking in the ruins. The sign becomes a figure for the plight of the city. “Oh, right, it’s Detroit. I forget sometimes.”

Not every McDonald’s is terrible, but there seem to be an awful lot of bad ones. The most frequently repeated criticism is that a given McDonald’s is the very worst McDonald’s:

“This is the worst McDonald’s ever!” (Albany, New York)

“Worst McDonald’s.” (Los Angeles)

“Hands down, the worst McDonald’s EVER.” (Rensselaer, New York)

“Worst mcdonalds ever!” (San Francisco)

“Worst McDonalds ever.” (Latham, New York)

“WORST McDonalds I have ever been to.” (Highland Park, Michigan)

“I hate this McDonald’s.” (St. Louis)

“Without a doubt the worst McDonald’s I’ve ever encountered.” (Portland, Oregon)

“Quite possibly the worst mcdonalds i have ever been to.” (Bakersfield, California)

“I must be a glutton for punishment!” (Fort Lauderdale)

If we’re serious about finding the very worst McDonald’s, though, we probably need to focus on the ones where customers and employees are in some kind of physical danger:

“Occasional fights break out, but the staff is good about keeping out the ruffians.” (San Francisco)

“If you go to this one, take a weapon.” (Houston)

“Always bring a friend to this McDonald’s, never under any circumstances arrive alone!” (St. Louis)

The issue at these dangerous locations (or the locations that customers perceive as dangerous) is usually the presence of homeless people in or immediately outside the restaurant. The reviews that focus on this problem tend to be too racist or offensive to quote, but one reviewer in Miami makes a telling mistake. She writes: “A homeless man wearing nicer clothes and shoes than me asked for money…”

I think her intention is to represent this man as a freeloader of some kind, living the good life out there in the McDonald’s parking lot, but the adjective “homeless” suggests that this is a person who is manifestly without a home and yet still looks more put together than the reviewer herself.

Customers, employees, homeless people in the parking lot—in a sense they’re all victims of the same economic forces. And they’re often interchangeable. Customers frequently mention that they’ve worked at a McDonald’s themselves. Sometimes they seem like they’ve come unglued:

“I stormed through the doors yestarday demanding my money back on my half eaten cheeseburger because it got so cold while i was eating it… and i took 2 hours to eat just half of it.” (Bakersfield)

Any way you look at it, a very bad thing is happening here. The service is probably bad because the employees are paid so poorly that their job is barely a job at all. The customers are upset because they don’t have any money either, as they often remark. There’s a particularly heartbreaking review in which a man calculates that because his local McDonald’s has raised its coffee prices by a few cents, he’ll have to lower his weekly ration by one cup.

All anyone seems to want is dignity and humane treatment, but McDonald’s doesn’t serve these things. Some of the most poignant reviews are the ones in which customers are committed to optimism anyway:

“So I love this McDonald’s. They have the best fountain soda around. And the burgers are really crisp and tasty. The only problem is I always get sick after eating here. I don’t know if this is the reason I get sick or if it’s something else but it never fails that I get food poisoning after eating food at this location. So despite the fact I like it and it’s convenient to stop on the way out of town I won’t be going back here.” (Nitro, West Virginia)

This problem belongs to all of us. We’re all trapped in the metaphysical drive-thru while the income gap gets wider and wider. And somehow McDonald’s seems like the epicenter of the disaster, the very place where the American dream is ground into hamburger, inconsistently priced, and served cold. As one reviewer in Detroit puts it: “I’m loathin’ it!”

Aaron Thier is the author of The Ghost Apple. His new novel, Mr. Eternity, will be published in 2016.