Friday, April 13, 2012

American Fast Food in France

Starbucks in Leeds
Starbucks in Leeds. Please ignore the
accidental caption in the lower right. 
My wife has a guilty pleasure: hamburgers. When we were living in London, she would sometimes buy herself a Quarter Pounder as a treat. So I introduced herself to the Burger King Whopper. Personally, I feel the flame-broiled taste is much better and she agreed. However, Burger King went out of business in France and McDonalds is thriving.

Why? Because apparently, the Burger King slogan in France was "you'll have it our way". They did nothing to adjust their menu to French tastes and the French said non. You might have heard that the success of McDonalds is based, in part, on the fact that no matter where you travel, you're guaranteed of getting the same quality and taste of product. That's not true:
According to Nawfal Trabelsi, senior VP for McDonald's France and Southern Europe, "For the first 15 years, from 1980, what we did above all was offer people a slice of America." However, in 1995, McDonald's started using French cheeses such as chevre, cantal and blue, as well as whole-grain French mustard sauce. By changing the recipes in France, McDonald's started executing a multidomestic strategy and winning the hearts of French consumers.
Interestingly, Burger King is now returning to France. It remains to be seen if Burger King has learned their lesson.

Unsurprisingly, Starbucks is here, too, but all 63 of their stores are losing money. So what are they doing to turn things around?
La décision a donc été prise de lancer une nouvelle campagne européenne pour gagner des parts de marché. Le plan comprend, entre autres, un rebranding (relooking pour ceux qui ne parlent pas la langue de Shakespeare) complet des magasins: une déco plus personnelle, plus agréable, plus cosy, enfin plus frenchie quoi! Parce que nous, Français (fidèles à notre réputation), nous sommes des clients plutôt exigeants!
That translates as:
[Starbucks decided] to launch a European campaign to win market share. The plan includes, among other things, a rebranding (a "makeover" for those who do not speak the language of Shakespeare) off all of their stores: a more personal decor, more comfortable, more cozy, finally more frenchie! Because we, the French (true to our reputation), are rather demanding customers!
I read constantly about US businesses who decide to operate in Europe, transport over a bunch of American management, and fail because they don't respect the culture. The extremely direct style of US business communication can sometimes offend the British. The Dutch often work in a more consensus-oriented manner than Americans.

It's good to see American businesses finally working with other cultures rather than simply assuming that people will love everything American.


  1. I wasn't a fan of McDonalds' Teriyaki burger in Japan. Also not of their breakfast version of pancakes-and-a-burger. Didn't try the Ebi one.

    But their Big Mac tasted practically the same as it does in Amsterdam.

  2. In Jakarta both KFC and McDonald's delivered via moped and offered rice instead of french fries. To this day my kids don't understand why they can't get a ball of sticky rice instead of fries when we go to fast food in the states.

  3. See likes hamburgers? And you're letting her think the food-shaped-objects from McD and BK are actual food?

    C'mon! Man up! Get her a real hamburger.

  4. Although I always ate local cuisine when I traveled to Hong Kong and Shanghai for business, there's nothing more reassuring to an American than a piping hot cup of coffee from McDonalds (this was before Starbucks left Seattle). Even the predominantly British eateries could not seem to get coffee right.

  5. I have no problem with McDonalds once in a while (yummy BicMac :)), but it wasn't until I moved to the US that I discovered that we're shortchanged in Europe with burgers. The real deal is so much better. Regardless, I totally agree that adapting your business to local tastes is key for international companies. You'll have it our way? Not so smart, Burger King.