Why McDonald’s in France Doesn’t Look or Taste Like Fast Food

mcdonalds france

Back in February, after a spectacular wake-and-bake session in Paris, we headed out in search of something greasy and fast. Curious about France’s take on McDonald’s, we decided to check out one in Montparnasse.

Rather than the hoards of patrons looking for a quick bite we find stateside, it turns out that McDonald’s France (aka “MacDo”) is hardly a fast food restaurant at all and much more sophisticated than the US franchises.

Let’s start with their McCafe, which was located at the front of the joint and separated from the more savory fare in the back (we’ll get to that soon, too). There were dainty pastries behind a large glass case including flan and pies on large platters, cookies and croissants in rustic baskets, and even macarons on gold display boards.

If it wasn’t for the McDonald’s logo emblazoned on the walls,  you might mistake it for a well-stocked Starbucks.

french fast food

Slices of strawberry cheesecake.

Cheesecakes McDonald's France

Canelés, thick, caramelized pastries with a soft custard center.

Canele McCafe

Raspberry and pistachio macarons.

McCafe Macaroons

Compared to the rest of Paris, which is generally pricey, the treats are very affordable.

McCafe macaroons

Even the coffee drinks get an upgrade here, with a full on espresso machine ready to make everything from a foamy cappuccino to an espresso to a noisette. Seriously.

McCafe Coffee

You can even buy their glass mugs to enjoy your drink with while you munch on a croissant.

McCafe Drinks

After starting the day with sweets, we moved to the back to order a burger. Right before the cash registers, there was a little army of touch screens you could opt to order from. After paying by card, it’ll spit out a ticket you take to the counter to collect your meal.

McDonald's Touchscreens

While their menu has the familiar offering of cheeseburgers, big macs, and fries, there are all kinds of items that get a French makeover. Think a “Royal Deluxe” with a creamy mustard sauce – a burger my Parisian friend swears by – and “Charolais” with Charolais beef and pepper sauce in between toasty ciabatta bread.

They have seasonal items, too. And this is where our appetites skipped a beat. We tried the “Fromage Pane” — a burger with a breaded cheese patty instead beef. The bread was fluffy and the veggies fresh, while the all-cheese patty was lighter than we expected. The breaded crust was crispy without being greasy, and the melted cheese inside oozed with every bite. A definite winner.

burger fromage pane

McDonald's vegetarian burger

So, how does McDonald’s survive in Michelin star territory? In France, it’s expected to spend a few hours at the table. Adapting to the culture, the fast food chain’s interiors are modern and roomy, inviting guests to enjoy their meal rather than scarf it down. The menu also acknowledges the French appreciation for high quality in everything they eat. In order to stay competitive in both price and quality, they locally source their ingredients — beef is grass-fed and you can trace each animal product via a passport with information on where it was raised.

McDonald's in France

It’s enough to make you wonder why we don’t have the same standards in the US, where the contents of our beloved chicken nuggests are still questionable. Having a similar system for tracking the origin of our food, from start to finish, would be a start. Yet that’s only a small part of a very, very big picture.

Dear America, your move.