McDonalds, Upper Regent Street | icon 010 | February 2004

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photo: Andrew Penketh photo: Andrew Penketh

words Kieran Long

The global burger giant is ditching its familiar red and yellow livery in favour of a classier, more idiosyncratic urban look. Which is all very well, but sadly you still have to eat the food.

McDonald’s touts its origins as a down home, American diner, but in recent years its interiors have been a sea of beige formica, with easy-to-clean junctions and furniture that looks as if it grew out of the ground like some kind of fungus.

Its 30,000 restaurants increasingly feel anachronistic. Their role as America’s unofficial embassies is less and less relevant in a globalised world where air travel is cheap and people are searching for authentic urban experiences. So McDonald’s has abandoned bland, undifferentiated interiors as a background to an act of consumption indelibly associated with the USA, moving towards a more specific cosmetic approach that references an aspirational urbanity of clean, modern lines, quick, healthy food, and private environments that are an extension of our own homes and lives.

The Upper Regent Street store is one of a swath of McDonalds restaurants across the world that are being “reimaged”, according to the “Revitalization Plan” to take the corporation back to past levels of financial performance. The plan says: “We are differentiating McDonald’s by creating a more relevant restaurant environment… to create a more welcoming, contemporary ambience as well as testing new ideas, such as providing wireless internet access in our restaurants.”

This restaurant, designed by freelance designer Lucy Powers, plays down the traditional McDonald’s red and yellow livery in favour of a broad, sub-Paul Smith stripe in a retro brown. The furniture is also retro, Scandinavian-inspired modernist-lite, all dark timber with upholstered stools in bright colours. The diversity of seating and the colours on the floor are trying hard to provide a differentiated experience in what is a very small space. You can sit on a high stool by the window chatting on your mobile phone while sipping a coffee, you can lounge with your paper in one of the low chairs, or eat at one of the rather attractive Corian tables. This is McDonalds as urban eaterie, somewhere the middle classes can feel comfortable in.

If you have to eat the food, these surroundings are more pleasant than most. However, the new contemporary-style McDonald’s cannot remove the guilt of buying a Big Mac the urban middle classes feel. Somehow it is easy to forget about global poverty and the injustices of the coffee trade in a Starbucks. You can dress up a McDonalds all you like, but we know we are being manipulated. This is simply a new skin for the quintessential globalised experience.

74 Regent Street, London W1

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