A round of applause for the pensioners standing up to McDonald’s

This is a delicious tale. The little guys showing up the heartless multinational giant

Share

How long does it take to eat a Big Mac? Most go for the scoff-it-in-three-minutes, regret-it-for-three-days approach. What, though, if you want to really savour that sesame bun and beef patty, take your time over your special sauce and pickles? One McDonald’s in New York has now set an upper time limit for diners (diners?) of 20 minutes.

The branch in question, in Flushing, Queens, has a problem with slow fast-food eaters. A gang of pensioners from the local Korean community has taken to spending all day at its tables, sipping coffees and splitting the odd bag of fries. Its manager, who would like to flip tables as quickly as burgers, is not happy. “It’s a McDonald’s,” she told The New York Times, “not a senior centre.” She has called 911 on the renegade OAPs four times since November. Which I suppose could be read as a sign that really enjoying a McDonald’s is kind of a crime. Each time, the police come and move the pensioners on. And each time, the wily old bunch returns. “They ordered us out,” Man Hyung Lee, 77, said. “So I left. Then I walked around the block and came right back again.”

Good on him. The customer is always right, even at McDonald’s. As soon as a patron hands cash over the counter, he or she is entitled to some kind of service and a seat at the very least. Who is McDonald’s to decree the time it takes to slurp a milkshake? “Do you think you can drink a large coffee within 20 minutes?” said David Choi, 77. “No. It’s impossible.”

For fans of David vs Goliath disputes, this is a delicious tale. The little guys with their $1 bag of chips showing up the heartless multinational giant. It also points to how cafés are more than places to refuel: they have become second homes. As book and record stores, clothes and food shops are felled by out-of-town malls and online behemoths, the high street has been colonised by Neros and Costas, interspersed with the chalkboards and brown aprons of more artisanal coffee roasters. The Queens pensioners are just a low-rent version of the “coffice” workers who set up shop with latte and laptop, measuring out their life with coffee spoons and fretting over how many almond biscotti might equate to a day’s free Wi-Fi.

In London, the next phase has already begun. The first pay-per-minute café opened in Shoreditch last week. At Ziferblat, everything is free but the time you spend there, which costs 3p a minute. Patrons can bring in food and non-alcoholic drink, or make their own teas and coffees using the machines, so long as they wash up afterwards. A few cappuccinos and a slice of toast over three hours works out far cheaper than the equivalent at a chain coffee shop.

The other option, of course, is simply to stay at home, where it doesn’t cost a penny to sit on a chair, where you know how to work the coffee machine, where you can leave your washing up until you feel like doing it and where there are no annoying people tapping on laptops. But people go to Ziferblat for the same reason that Mr Lee and pals gather at McDonald’s – for human contact. No one is really there for the food and drink (the Queens gang apparently fuels up on a free lunch at a nearby community centre before bunkering in for the afternoon), but for the price of a few McNuggets or an americano, they get to sit where they choose for a while.

Rather than vilifying them, McDonald’s and its like should embrace these loyal customers. The solution in Queens seems simple: reserve a couple of tables for the lingerers and the rest for scoffers. Treated with courtesy, the pensioners might feel more inclined to splash out on a second coffee, even a Filet-o-Fish.

In this age of super-skinny-soy sippers, fast foodies are a dying breed. If I were in charge of marketing at McDonald’s, I’d stick those Flushing loiterers on a billboard without delay.

Twitter: @alicevjones

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas