Why do the French love McDonald’s so much?

In the country that invented haute cuisine – Janine Marsh, editor of The Good Life France, asks "Just why are the French so-Mcdo-pro?"

Why do the French love McDonald's so much?
Why do the French love McDonald's? Photo: AFP

A campaign to prevent McDonald's installing a new set of golden arches in the historic centre of Paris has won support and gained much publicity.

But in general the French have a healthy appetite for all things “McDo” and are believed to scoff the most Big Macs per head of any country outside the United States.

Indeed The Local reported about a campaign by resident's in on French town last year, who grew increasingly angry at delays to the opening of their new fast-food restaurant.

Here Janine Marsh, editor of the Good Life France website explore why exactly, the French of all people are so McDo pro:

Lots of people around the world are completely bemused by the fact that French people want a McDo (as it’s affectionately called here in France) at all. Many of us see gastronomy in France as something to be cherished and a visit to McDo is letting the side down and a slap in the face to the heritage of French cuisine.

In France we all eat croissants for breakfast, croque monsieurs for lunch and finish the day with a three course meal ending with café and macarons (without ever putting on weight or children throwing food!). Well that’s what some would have you believe – but, it simply isn’t true.

Yes, on the whole the French in my experience do tend to care more about food.

They are accustomed to spending a far greater percentage of their income on food than say the US or UK. I’m always a bit nonplussed that my neighbour JP, a man who will quibble over a centime, will think it is perfectly normal to spend €20 on 2 slices of ham.

The fact that the pig from whence it came has been lovingly reared by hand, fed only organic produce and prepared by a master gourmet is enough reason to spend much more than normal for this ordinarily cheap meat.

Certainly in France, street markets in every town and village mean that we consumers have access to fresh, local, seasonal produce far more readily than in countries like the UK.

However, McDonalds, the fast food, world dominating burger bar that some argue is about as far away from gastronomy as it is possible to get – is incredibly popular in France.

Many of my non-French friends are appalled at this strange penchant of the French. “Why?” they demand to know. After all how on earth can you accept that the country that gave us cordon bleu and classic dishes like tarte tatin, boeuf bourgignon and coq au vin – also loves burger and chips?!

Not only that, they love McDo so much, that outside of America, France has more McDonalds restaurants than any other country in the world.

I think there are several reasons the French are so-McDo-pro.

WiFi: McDonalds have very cleverly made WiFi available to all its customers and in France that is still a tad unusual, and especially so out of the main towns.

Menu: They have a different menu in McDo than in the US and it’s far more French. You can buy beer in McDonalds in France, order a McBaguette with French cheese – a McCamembert! The ingredients are from France. Unlike most other countries where McDonalds operates, when they opened in France it was on the grounds that only French ingredients would be used.

McCafé: A smaller version of McDonalds with less seating and more cakes and different coffees

Luncheon vouchers: In France, many employees receive luncheon vouchers as part of their salary. The employee pays a small amount, the company contributes more and on average the employee receives vouchers valued at 8 Euros for daily use. That’s just about the amount that a McDonalds meal costs in France (Coincidence? Perhaps…).

Convenience: McDos are open most of the time. Restaurants in out of town areas tend to be closed on a Sunday and often on a week day as employees adhere to the 35 hour working week. Small restaurants can’t afford to employ more staff to keep going so they have to close to avoid breaking regulations.

Many of my French friends don’t understand the furore about why they like McDonalds and ask why they shouldn’t.

After all they say, McDo is popular around the world and found in 120 countries, they can’t see why anyone would think it would be different in France.

The original article appeared on The Good Life France and can be viewed by clicking here.

Member comments

  1. This abomination daring to call itself a “restaurant” offers dreadful food in every country where it’s allowed, and France is no different. Rubbish food is rubbish food, wherever you are.

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40 years of Le Big Mac: Here’s how big France’s appetite for McDonald’s has grown

It's 40 years since the US burger giant McDonald's sold its first French fries in France. Here's a look at how the French fell in love with the Big Mac although the relationship has had its ups and downs over the years.

40 years of Le Big Mac: Here's how big France's appetite for McDonald's has grown
A McManure please. Farmers protest at a McDonald's in France in 199. Photo: AFP

The French may have invented nouvelle cuisine, but it seems the dish they love more than any other is served in a square cardboard box on a plastic tray.

The first French McDonald's restaurant – or McDo as they like to call it – opened 40 years ago on September 17th 1979 in Strasbourg and 40 years on the French cannot get enough of their French fries (though, in France, they are just called fries).

To see how much the French love McDonald's you just have to look at some of the stats:

  • 1.8 million – this is the amount of McDonald meals served up in France every day. That's almost two million meals every single day. 
  • 13 percent – this is the share of the restaurant market in France – the home of fine dining – that McDonald's has.
  • 1,464 – this is the number of McDonald restaurants currently in France, that's more than any other chain. The company aims to expand this by 300 – 400 in the next ten years. 
  • 74,000 – this is the number of people employed either full-time or part-time by the company in France. 62 percent of the team are less than 25 years old. 
  • 2nd – France is the second biggest market for McDonald's per head of population after the United States. 
  • 1st – the biggest McDonald's restaurant in the world is located in Disneyland Paris. 
  • €9 – is the average price of a meal in French McDonald's, making it the most expensive in the world. 

The French clearly have something of a love affair with McDonald's and it is reciprocated. When the company opened in France it was on the grounds that only French ingredients would be used, which is not the same in every country where McDonald's operates.

READ ALSO: Why do the French love McDonald's so much?

The menu has also been Frenchified.

Here they have at times sold the McBaguette with cheese and it isn't one of those plastic cheese slices, not on your life. In France, they use Camembert. You can also buy beer in French McDonald's, just in case you need a little kick with your breakfast McMuffin. 

In France there have been times when residents have protested against McDonald's closing or even demanded a new one open in their town.

Employees fighting to keep their McDonald's open in a suburb of Marseille said their restaurant had become the heart of the community, offering internships and jobs to people while providing a safe space for birthdays or meeting friend.

In a community in northern France a Facebook campaign garnered support among thousands and led to a street protest demanding a McDonald's open up in the area.


However, for as much as the French love McDonald's, they also love to hate McDonald's. The relationship has had its bumpy moments.

For decades, McDonald's was the brand French people loved to hate.

From the 1970s it was accused of being the exporter of “mal bouffe” (“bad food”) to the land of fine dining, blamed for introducing millions of French people to high-calorie American fast-food.

It was also resisted as a symbol of US economic and cultural imperialism, particularly by leftwingers, in a country that remains suspicious of globalisation — and more eager than most to defend its own language and culture.

French farmer and one-time presidential candidate Jose Bove built a political career through his opposition to McDonald's which saw him trash a restaurant in the south of France in 1999.

French farmers raided the building site of the McDonald's in Aveyron and demolished it. They had announced their intentions in advance and invited spectators along, offering a Roquefort-tasting at the same time. It was in protest at the Americafication of France

“Roquefort d'abord McDo go home” (Roquefort first, McDo go home) read a slogan daubed on the trashed McDonald's. 

Support for the farmers grew and led to more protests at McDonald's across the country, including some where manure was deposited on the restaurants tills and floor.

The protest outside a McDonald's in Toulouse in 199 saw people turn up with traditional French dishes in protest at the American fastfood giant.

And resistance to the golden arches continues: a mayor on the island of Oleron in western France has famously battled to keep the company out, and the brand is still a favourite target of anti-capitalist protesters during street demonstrations.

And there have also been clashes between McDonald's and the French state at a high level.

In 2016, the French taxman sent a bill for €300 million in unpaid taxes to McDonald's France. The profits were said to have been siphoned through Switzerland and Luxembourg. 

The fast-food restaurant also caused veritable outrage with some French food purists when it had the temerity to add potatoes to its Salade Nicoise in its Italian restaurants. Was nothing sacred any more? 

But despite the run-ins the French still queue up in droves for their burgers and even with the arrival of new rivals in the battle of the burgers like Burger King and Five Guys, McDo still reigns supreme.