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Fries with that Zen? McDonald's turns to feng shui
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11:08, February 26, 2008

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The only familiar signs at the McDonald's in this large Asian community in California are the golden arches, the drive-through and the menu.

Gone are the plastic furniture, Ronald McDonald and the red and yellow palette that has defined the world's largest hamburger chain. Leather seats, earth tones, bamboo plants and water trickling down glass panels have taken their place.

The makeover elements at the Hacienda Heights restaurant are meant to help diners achieve happiness and fortune - whether they realize it or not.

That's because the restaurant was redesigned using the principles of feng shui, the ancient Chinese practice of arranging objects and numbers to promote health, harmony and prosperity.

The concept is an unlikely fit with fast food. But the restaurant's owners say the designs are aimed at creating a soothing setting that will encourage diners to linger over their burgers and fries, and come back again.

The makeover is part of the attempt by McDonald's in recent years to remodel hundreds of its restaurants to attract more patrons with unique decor and amenities that might entice them to stay awhile.

It also fits into McDonald's larger corporate practice of catering to local tastes, such as a fondue-style burger in France or a pita-wrapped "McArabia" sandwich in the Middle East.

"We can't look too cookie cutter," Mark Brownstein, one of three owners of the restaurant, said about the new decor.

The basic principles of feng shui include placing strategic representations of five natural elements - earth, water, fire, metal and wood - around the room to increase the flow of chi, or energy.

Feng shui (fung shway) has been employed in the designs of high-rises, banks, even zoo exhibits in the US, and has been popularized by countless coffee table books and TV shows such as cable channel HGTV's Fun Shui. It's also used in the designs of the Panda Express Chinese food chain.

The McDonald's in this Los Angeles suburb boasts wood ceiling, silver-coated chairs, plus red accents throughout the dining area to symbolize fire and "good luck, laughter and prosperity", said Brenda Clifford, who designed the dining area.

The textured walls patterned after ocean waves symbolize "life and relaxation - the balanced things that you want in your life", she said.

Customers are responding positively.

"When we first walked in we were amazed, we were happy we skipped the drive-through and went inside," Andrew Chen said while lounging in a white leather booth with a friend.

Chen, 20, said he didn't notice the feng shui elements. He just thought it was a modern interior.

Two workers at the nearby post office said they've been taking more lunch breaks at the remodeled McDonald's, which opened in late December.

"We're here two, three times a week," Waldo Alfaro said as he munched on a Filet-O-Fish and a salad. "It's relaxing, you don't feel any pressure here."

Nevermind that this is the same McDonald's that's been vilified by critics over its artery-clogging Big Macs and fries.

The buzz about the feng shui McDonald's is starting to attract curious onlookers.

"It's successful as a design. It's got a very clean, open, airy appearance," said Elaine Bjorklund, a professor emerita of cultural geography at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, who was in town visiting a friend.

"I'm not a McDonald's habituee," she added as she snapped pictures of the dining area. "It would be interesting to see if this trend will spread."

Brownstein said he and his partners chose the feng shui makeover because the restaurant is located near a renowned Buddhist temple. He said business has picked up.

Other franchise owners are taking notice. Clifford said her company has been hired to feng shui two more McDonald's in Southern California.

Source: China Daily/Agencies



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