As PR practitioners, we fancy ourselves quite a fearless bunch. We have learned to juggle, to anticipate, and to act swiftly and keenly in the face of conflict. Armed with the protection of a reactive statement, we face calamities with self-assurance and, at times, with pleasure.
Or so we like to think.
When the news arrives that you have been asked to abandon the safety and comfort of looming op-ed deadlines and high heels in exchange for a week spent dressing hamburgers in a frantic fast food kitchen, fearlessness seems all but a distant memory.
Having recently won the business for one of the world’s largest and most successful brands – McDonald’s – the account team was informed it would be participating in a weeklong intensive, in-store training session. From the shelf life of a french fry (it’s seven minutes in case you’re wondering), to the ideal shade of brown on a toasted bun, to the art of wrapping a McMuffin, we had been offered unrestricted access to the kitchens of the world’s most iconic quick service restaurant franchise.
And that was that. Farewell feature, hello hamburger.
Consider everything you think you know about what happens in a McDonald’s kitchen. And now, forget it. Forget all of it. Vegan or burger junkie, the mechanics of a McDonald’s kitchen will impress even the most skeptical of critics. After six days – in perhaps the most well organised kitchen known to mankind – it becomes clear that it’s not very scary back there after all. In fact, not even a little.
McDonald’s has been designed to run like a well-oiled machine. Every spatula, every box, every pickle has a place. Blue gloves are for raw meat, white ones for pre-cooked products. Cloths? Well they’re kept in the bucket marked ‘clean cloths’, of course! Full words have no place in a McDonald’s kitchen, which operate instead on acronyms. In no time, we were assembling EVMs (Extra Value Meals) and discussing the day to day functions of a QSR (Quick Service Restaurant).
This is not to say it’s all automated. If anything, an organised kitchen calls for an even more organised team of cooks. ‘Crew members’, as they’re called, maneuver around the kitchen in a bustle of choreographed routines, assembling, sprinkling, tossing and flipping, while customers – completely unaware of what’s happening behind the scenes – rhyme off their orders .
Good food fast. That’s the McDonald’s mantra, and it’s one that is taken seriously. From start to finish, customers can expect to wait no longer than 90 seconds for a made to order meal. PB&J aside, when is the last time you made a meal in 90 seconds? Remarkably, when an order of 16 sandwiches flashes up on the screen, not even an eyelash is fluttered. Toast the bun, check your time, dress the bun, sauce the bun, patty the bun, wrap the bun, wipe your station, serve the bun to very hungry people. Repeat.
Of course, in the team’s case, the process may have resembled something more along the lines of: toast the bun, chase on approvals for the bun, patty the bun, amend the bun, dress the bun, issue the bun, embargo the bun, recall the bun…but who’s keeping track?
PR. It’s a hard habit to break.
Now, back in the safety of our own desks, as we draft press releaseas and opinion editorials, the job seems ever so slightly different. It could be the faint scent of french fries hanging in the air, but more than likely, it’s the fact that we’re just a little bit more fearless than we were before.