Friday, March 18, 2011

Subway overtakes McDonald's

Used to be in some parts of the world (maybe still is) that having a McDonald’s meant you had arrived—economically and socially. Because McDonald’s doesn’t just open up anywhere, it was seen that a country or city was modern, and part of the global family.

In Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates.

I remember hearing people say (or at least that was their talk) that they would never go to a McDonald’s when travelling. I, on the other hand, had no hang ups about stopping in at the golden arches on my travels. In fact, some of them were quite memorable. In Zurich for instance, I remember sitting outside on a wooden picnic table. It was a pleasant fall day, and I munched away on a cheeseburger, while watching people stroll through a large plaza, near the train station. In Macau, one McDonald’s is set inside one of the city’s delightful Portuguese inspired buildings. In Costa Rica, my wife and I went to a McDonald’s, and then made up a silly song about hamburguesas (as burgers are called there). And in the last few weeks that my wife and I were in Seoul, when she had lost much of her sight, she would venture out some afternoons to McDonald's, and the large red and yellow sign, however blurry it must have been for her, was the one thing she could see.
I’ve been to McDonald’s in Krakow and Melbourne. Suva and Sharjah. Panama and Bucharest. But there are some places that I have been where there wasn’t one of these ubiquitous restaurants. In Cuba and Iran, for instance. And I don’t remember there being one in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Hamming it up in Macau
I once asked the McDonald’s corporate headquarters if they had a list of all the countries where they had a restaurant. They told me they don’t keep that information. Really? I imagined the entrance of the global office of McDonald’s to have a giant wall map of the world, and little “M”s lit up representing all the places their brand is. Though I did find on the McDonald’s Canada website that they have restaurants in 119 countries.  
Given that, you could be forgiven for thinking that McDonald’s is the largest fast-food chain in the world. And for sure, they are still one of the most globally recognized brands, but they no longer have the most restaurants. That honour recently went to the Subway sandwich shop. Yes, there are 33,700 Subways, compared to 32,700 McDonald’s. 
I can’t say I’ve been to a whole lot of Subway restaurants around the world.  And the few that I have been to just don't hold the same reminiscences that McDonald’s does.