| April 2011 | By

Roy vs. Big Brother

From menu labeling to toy bans to healthy eating, the government is getting more involved with the quick-serve industry. Roy proposes a solution for the industry to rally around.

Happy meals ended up in the crosshairs of San Francisco legislators.

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OK, I’ve had it.  

Those of you who read this column know that I am a problem/solution kind of guy. If I have a problem, I have a proposed solution, and I use this column as my platform. My problem is government intervention in the quick-serve business. My solution will come later.

They went way too far when they took the Happy out of Happy Meal. These boys are now telling you where to put your restaurants and how to put them there; you only get six square feet of signage and it must be black, you can’t make a kid happy by giving him a toy, your crew uniforms don’t fit right, your food is destroying America, your prices are too high, you don’t pay enough taxes, and your report on the average number of french fries in an order is late.  

And this is coming from a bunch of chucklehead trust-fund babies who probably have never run a business in their lives. Did you ever wonder how a politician who makes $50,000 a year retires with $50 million? Can you say lobbyist? So why do they do it? For the people they represent, right?  

Maybe, but probably for two reasons. First, it’s fun. It’s a lot more stimulating to debate the size of the napkins, how long they can delay your temporary occupancy permit, or the diameter of the straw hole than it is to fix the streets. And since they have all these extremely serious issues to decide, they must visit your restaurant first-hand and get a free meal.

Second, it’s a lot more important than talking about such mundane issues as the national or local debt, immigration, the trade deficit, education, crime, drugs, health care, and infrastructure. After all, if they can keep us worried about the calorie content of ketchup, maybe we won’t question why Arizona stopped paying Medicaid for certain organ transplants. Or why Illinois owes $6 billion to its schools. Or why Camden, New Jersey, laid off nearly half of its police.  

“You need to pay attention to those issues that may cause your profit to go away, because you may be legislated out of the business.”

Now, to be fair, some of this stuff is important. And even good for business. For example, menu labeling. People should know the nutrition content of their food. They need to make intelligent decisions about what they are putting in their mouths. It’s also good for business, because we have such a bad rap for our food that we need to get the word out that there are alternatives to that 1,500-calorie burger in our restaurants. It’s OK to eat at a quick serve if you do it intelligently. But don’t tell me that the numbers have to be on the menuboard in type that only an eagle can read. That’s nuts.  

What New York and Los Angeles are doing is OK, too. I have no problem with posting health-department ratings. After all, if I am doing a good job, I want the customer to know it. Same with a fair minimum wage.  

But there has to be a better way of doing this than letting our honorable politicians tell us what to do. Look what they did to the buffalo. The Native Americans would shoot one buffalo and use every bit of it for food, clothing, and shelter. Along came the government and told them to shoot them all, because we can’t send the surplus to some other country. Now there are (almost) no more buffalo. Could there be a time when there are no more quick serves?

OK, so this is what we are going to do as an industry: We are going to self-regulate without government intervention.

Each of the top five, middle five, and smaller five quick serves is going to appoint a representative. These 15 people will be responsible for recommending ways to regulate our industry. They will meet once a quarter in Fargo, North Dakota, or Krum, Texas, or Lostyourhorse, Wyoming—not Orlando—for one week. Day One is travel, and they will need it to get to Fargo. Day Two, they split into five teams with one size rep on each team. They brainstorm out the top four issues for the industry for that year and prioritize them.

Day Three, they meld the lists and begin to discuss solutions for the top issue. Day Four, they agree to a solution and assign tasks, budgets, timetables, publicity plans, and so on. If suppliers are involved, like with reducing the amount of sodium or trans fats in ingredients, further meetings of the committee may be necessary with the supplier. Day Five, they travel home and figure out how they are going to explain what they did to their CEO.  

We will never get Big Brother off our backs unless we do two things. We must learn to self-regulate and stick to it, and we must construct a plan to educate the public about what and why we are doing what we are doing. Now, I know we are competitors, but if we don’t get together on this soon who knows what could happen. Don’t forget, our governments have convinced us that they will save us from ourselves; we no longer have to make decisions, Brother will take care of it, and the quick-serve business is caught in the middle. After all, they figured out how to take toys away from kids and make it OK to do so. Yikes!

I ask you to just do a little thinking about the above. I know you have a payroll to meet, vendors to pay, and a little thing called profit to worry about. But, just like the government, you need to pay attention to those issues that may cause your profit to go away, because you may be legislated out of the business. And the solution is for us to get together as an industry and handle it. No more free lunches for the mayor.

Happy Trails, a Peaceful Life, and good luck figuring out how to get to Lostyourhorse.


Mr. Bergold, your column is about 10-20 years too late.To paraphrase a well known piece of writing . . . they came for the smokers, but I wasn't a smoker so I stayed silent . . . then they came for the overweight people, but I wasn't overweight so I stayed silent . . . then they came for the kids, but I didn't have kids so I stayed silent . . . then they came for me, but there was no one around anymore to speak up for me.The smoking prohibition fanatics have dramatically damaged the hospitality business and opened the door for a never-ending array of government interventions in private commerce, mostly based upon the whim of the latest survey or politically correct position. And the hospitality and restaurant industry continues to stand by and watch as the industry is robbed of important revenue sources and most importantly our ability to create an environment of hospitality. I believe it started when we gave up on the nearly 25%, or more, of Americans and others who are (still) smokers. That's a lot of lost customers, who have found other ways to linger and spend money. The industry failed to understand how important smokers were to its success and its freedom to run its businesses. It's a shame that the industry did not fight that battle harder, mostly because it also failed to understand how smoking was really an issue of freedom. Why do we need these nanny laws? Let the market decide. If people don't want to patronize smoker friendly establishments or fois gras or soda pop, they will stop going and the businesses will close. Or not. The issue shouldn't be up to the government, especially an American government. Now those same smoking nannies are after trans fats, toys, sound levels, etc. When will our industry finally stand up for the larger issue of freedom? Or is there no one left to stand up?Thanks for writing the column, even thought it's decades past due.

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Roy Bergold

Roy started his career at the Leo Burnett Company in 1967. Two years later he decided to sell hamburgers instead, and began his adventure at McDonald’s. Starting as an assistant advertising manager, he became manager, national advertising manager, director of advertising and promotion, assistant vice president of advertising and promotion, and vice president of advertising.

Roy retired from McDonald’s in 2001 as Chief Creative Officer. Along the way, he was responsible for U.S., as well as all advertising worldwide. While under his care, McDonald’s earned every creative award possible, including Cannes, Clios, and the Four A’s best five year campaign. Roy lives happily in Payson, Arizona, with his wife, dogs, and horses.