Supersized McDonald's Perfect
For Supersized Kids

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A whopping 65 percent of McDonald's sales are transacted through the drive-through window. So why is the company opening a store with seating for 180 in Irving tomorrow?

The fast-food chain long ago accepted the majority of its customers would rather not get out of their cars. For years, the company's been focused on adding drive-through lanes, not seats: McDonald's hasn't opened a restaurant as big as the Irving outlet in two decades.

As the city's director of marketing and communications explains, Irving's citizens like eating in their cars too. But the mammoth McDonald's is targeting customers who are too young to drive.

"The owner said he built it largely for schools," Jeff Mues says. "A lot of school groups do meet there for a quick breakfast."

According to Mues, two high schools, eight elementary schools and various youth sports teams held regular meetings at the McDonald's that the new store was built to replace. Mues says the restaurant -- which offers wi-fi and electrical outlets aplenty -- will also serve as an informal gathering spot for Irving students, all of whom are issued laptops through school.

"One of the things they've complained about for years is there aren't a lot of places where they can plug in," says Mues, who's also heard from teachers and parents exasperated by students sprawled across school hallways. "Sometimes they don't want to be in a library. They can be more themselves in McDonald's."

Mues says the store's new playground should also draw increased birthday party traffic.

But the restaurant doesn't just offer Internet access and state-of-the-art playground equipment: McDonald's food is notoriously laden with calories, salt and fat, and has been fingered as a cause of the nation's childhood obesity crisis. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors became so fed up with the chain's romanticizing unhealthy food that it voted last week -- by a veto-proof majority -- to ban Happy Meals.

Asked whether positioning McDonald's as a de facto community center for kids was problematic, Mues conceded most young customers probably wouldn't confine their after-school snacking to side salads and apple wedges.

"Yeah, I don't really know what to say to that," Mues said. "I think they've got a couple menu items that are OK, but I don't think they're real popular."

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