Room with a view: McDonald’s – Financial Times 8.12.2000

sday Dec 14 2000

Room with a view: McDonald’s
By Rachel Bridge
Published: December 8 2000 13:50GMT | Last Updated: December 8 2000 23:09GMT

The next time you go into a McDonald’s in Switzerland don’t be surprised if you are offered a bed for the night along with your Quarter Pounder and French fries.

This spring the US hamburger empire will be opening the doors of two brand new hotels in Switzerland, one near Zurich airport with 211 rooms, the other near the French border with 80 rooms. It is the first time that McDonald’s has ever ventured into the hotel business and with both hotels hoping to appeal primarily to four star business travellers – families will be offered cheaper packages at weekends – the industry is watching closely.

Guests expecting to find armchairs shaped like Big Macs in their rooms or McNugget-flavoured soap in the shower, however, are going to be sadly disappointed. Apart from a discreet golden arch logo above the bed, there will be little indication that the hotels are in any way related to Ronald McDonald.

Adrian Seemeuller, a spokesman for Golden Arch Hotels, says: "We looked at ideas like making chairs in the shape of Big Macs in brainstorming sessions at the very beginning. While some children might like them, the hotels are a different kind of brand and we will be looking for other customers. This is not just about taking the McDonald’s restaurant into the hotel business, it is something different."

So instead of a bed shaped like a cheeseburger, guests will find a luxury $4,000 "sit’n'sleep" bed which they can turn from a couch into a bed as the touch of a button, a state-of-the-art entertainment and communications system providing high speed internet access via the television screen, and extra soundproofed walls. There will be automatic check-in, specially designed luggage trolleys and a fitness centre.

Rather bizarrely however the concept of four star luxury is not being extended as far as the hotel restaurant, which will offer only the standard McDonald’s menu of hamburgers and milkshakes. And because the hotels do not intend to provide room service, guests will have to walk down to the restaurant and pick up the food themselves. Those staying at the hotel near the French border will have the an alternative to fast food in the form of coffee and cold sandwiches in an Aroma Café.

Seemeuller himself doesn’t think there is anything strange in expecting discerning business travellers to eat fast food all day long, saying reassuringly, "The hotels are not exactly in the wilderness. There are a couple of restaurants nearby in the village or in the airport. People are not going to starve."

At weekends the company is hoping that the business traveller crowd will be replaced by McDonald’s more traditional set of customers: families and young adults. Semeuller is coy about what exactly they can expect to find but plans include a child care centre and Children’s Club so that parents can have some time to themselves knowing that their children are in safe hands. He says: "We have a lot of facilities in the Zurich area which are very nice for children, such as the zoo."

Indeed, for all the company’s talk of attracting a new crowd of non-hamburger munching customers, it is clear that Golden Arch Hotels hopes that the majority of its clients will already be serious Big Mac fans. As Semeuller points out, McDonald’s already has 70m customers in Switzerland. If just one in every thousand of them decide to stay in a Golden Arch hotel, the hotels will be fully booked out all year round.

Room rates from 154 Swiss Francs (US$86) to 189 Swiss Francs (US$106) per night.
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