How McDonald's stole Christmas

The fast-food giant suggests franchisees open for the holiday after seeing Thanksgiving sales jump.

By Jason Notte Dec 17, 2012 4:41PM

A sign outside the fast-food chain McDonaldMerry Christmas from McDonald's (MCD)! Now put on a smock, suggest some fries with that and help Ronald make his sales goal this quarter.

McDonald's, which once used the starving homeless child pictured in this clip from 1985's "Santa Claus: The Movie" to sell seasonal tie-in Happy Meals and story books, is getting its franchisees into the holiday spirit by not-so-subtly suggesting they stay open through the holidays. As AdAge reported, a Nov. 8 memo from McDonald's USA chief operating officer Jim Johannesen explains why it's imperative to keep the Golden Arches lit through the new year:

“Starting with Thanksgiving, ensure your restaurants are open throughout the holidays. Our largest holiday opportunity as a system is Christmas Day. Last year, [company-operated] restaurants that opened on Christmas averaged $5,500 in sales."

Gawker writer Hamilton Nolan so aptly and bluntly notes that McDonald's Dickensian stance just put a $5,500 price tag on a franchisee's Christmas Day and turned a holiday closure in deference to franchisee and employee families into an "opportunity." Asked whether employees would at least get a little more holiday cheer with their paycheck, a McDonald's spokesperson -- scarcely audible over the clattering of chains forged during a life of indifference and inhumanity -- replied that "when our company-owned restaurants are open on the holidays, the staff voluntarily sign up to work. There is no regular overtime pay." McDonald's didn't comment on their employees' potential holiday alternatives, including prisons and workhouses.

So how did Ronald McDonald go from holiday commercials of him teaching kids how to skate to pulling their parents out of the house on Christmas morning and shoving them in front of the fryers for no additional pay? Somebody messed with his cash flow.

Even after expanding hours and tinkering with its menu, McDonald's reported a 3.5% drop in revenue last quarter. Back in October, sales at U.S. stores dropped 2.2%. When the company recovered with a 2.5% sales increase last month, it declared open season on holidays by crediting Thanksgiving hours for the boost. Johanssen sent out another memo on Dec. 12 saying that not only did company-owned restaurants bring in $6,000 a pop on Thanksgiving Day, but that McDonald's opened 6,000 more stores that day than it did a year ago.

McDonald's doesn't see its franchisees, its employees, or even $5,500 to $6,000 when those stores stay open: It sees an extra $80 million or so to pad this quarter's figures. It also sees that it's not alone in seizing some holiday "opportunity," despite being among the few who don't pay extra to do so.

Target (TGT) and Wal-Mart (WMT) were among the other major retailers to open on Thanksgiving Day this year and watched sales on that day soar and bolster otherwise slumping November numbers. Panda Express, Sonic (SONC), Yum Brands' (YUM) Taco Bell and DineEquity's (DINE) Applebee's all leave it up to franchisees to decide whether or not they'll open on Christmas Day. Jack In The Box, Starbucks (SBUX), Dunkin' Donuts (DNKN) and IHOP also tend to keep the doors open that day. Not only is Denny's (DENN) open for the holiday, but Christmas Day is one of the biggest sales days on its calendar as folks flock in for a holiday breakfast they don't have to make.

Movie theater chains like Regal Entertainment (RGC) and Carmike (CKEC) are going to be open, too, as Quentin Tarantino's slavery revenge fantasy "Django Unchained," the Seth Rogen/Barbara Streisand mother-son comedy "Guilt Trip," Judd Apatow's coming-of-middle-age story "This Is 40" and the musical "Les Miserables" are all being released on or around Christmas Day.

Not only is McDonald's larger and more widespread than just about all of the aforementioned companies, but it's also making it quite clear that it's doing an about-face on its holiday policy simply to pad the stats. While some employees will work around it and may have a need for the extra cash that their colleagues at Denny's and Regal make each year, McDonald's memos prompting franchisees to turn the Arches on weren't penned with the employees in mind. McDonald's sales losses in October were its first in nine years. After learning on Thanksgiving that taking away a holiday is the easy answer, McDonald's isn't above pulling Christmas dinner off employees' plates and replacing it with a value meal if it means a few more presents under the company tree.

Consider it just a friendly way of telling employees and their families that Santa doesn't buy their gifts. Ronald does, and the clown's got to get paid.

More from Money Now

Dec 18, 2012 6:05AM
yes, they are the Grinch that stole Christmas. i was cruising early in the morning within the city limit, about 4.15 am due to some personal reasons, until I saw a 24 hours drive-thru McDonald. i stopped to buy me a hot cup of coffee and a nice hot breakfast. they said: "sorry, but we do not serve breakfast until 5 am". they will not have my money for a very long time for now on.
Dec 18, 2012 4:03AM
Mcdonald's/Walmart low-wage = the most successful population reduction/birth-rate-killing measure ever unleashed upon humanity. America is proof.

Fascist Pro-corporate Republican wage-busting is aging Americans and has reduced our citizens abilities to raise families. Who can afford to have a family nowadays when low-wages are starving us to death.

America's birthrates will never recover as long as we live in a wealth-divided, low-wage poverty for the masses society.

Capitalism is threatening the future survival of America.

Capitalism is killing us.

Dec 18, 2012 3:54AM

McDonalds is one of the worst places to work  on this planet. My Daughter  worked in Whitesburge, Ky. They were treated worse than prisoners in jail are. Here are a few of the things my Daughter had to do. She was made to scrub the floor under the tables with a scrub brush with clorox and water on her hands and knees ever lay down on her stomach, when she went to get a breath of air from the fumes she was jumper for opening the door. She was made to work all kinds of weird shifts. She was hired for mornings, She worked back to back shifts, the Manager changed her schedules from day to day she had to call every night to see when she worked the next day. Then get to work and be told your schedules was changed come back later. Breaks were not given or added to adjust Manger hours. If you got to 39 hours and did not tell the Manager you were wrote up for something.  She was put on suspend for 5 days for not getting to work with 10 inches of snow on the ground, at 4a.m.

I was so proud of my Daughter for willing to take the abuse to try to keep a job ,they hope no one will report them. The Manager did this to almost all the workers. I tried to get my Daughter to take them to the Labor Board but she was afraid it would make it harder on friends she made there. 

Dec 18, 2012 3:51AM
Nowadays, if Jesus entered the New York Stock Exchange and attacked the capitalist merchants, profiteers, and money-changers, he'd be arrested as a TERRORIST and sent to Gitmo to be tortured.

Jesus would be water-boarded to find out who he works for.

Dec 18, 2012 3:46AM
Capitalism trumps Christianity.

America's true 'god', the Almighty Dollar makes a mockery of the Christian 'religion' on a daily basis here in America.

Jesus is Capitalism's unwanted, socialist stepchild.

Jesus' most consistent message throughout the new testament was that the wealthy are supposed to give ALL of their wealth away for the greater good of mankind, to be our brothers keeper, to care for the sick, weak, elderly, and poor among us.

Capitalism raises 2 gigantic middle fingers toward everything that Jesus spoke of in the new testament.

Profits trump people in capitalism. 100% contrary to the bible's new testament.

All Christians should be focused on overthrowing capitalism, not supporting it.

Dec 18, 2012 12:49AM
No company cares about it's employees where the bottom line is concerned. My company is open til 6 on Christmas Eve, we are required to stay to "clean up and set up" untill 7:30, no Holiday for us or our families, and then return to work at 4am the day after Christmas to execute markdowns. Yeah Capitalism!
Dec 18, 2012 12:23AM
employees volunteer for the hours my butt...  economy is tough, so both hubs and I work at McDs to put food on the table..  There is no volunteering for hours, in our store, you can indicate what hours you are available on that day and MAYBE the scheduler can work around it.  I'm no stranger to working on holidays, worked for a hospital for 5 years and those never close.  The difference, at the hospital, we got compensated for working a holiday, McDs does not, for any holiday, give any incentive to working those days.
Dec 18, 2012 12:15AM
Dec 17, 2012 10:02PM
Well to start off . Sorry you all have to work . But I'm from the old school days . I worked everyday for 45 years and never bitched about it . The work I did needed done and I was willing to do it. The world has changed sense then and times are different now . Everyone out to make a million over night and they don't care who they step on to get it done . Quite frankly its a sorry state we live in nowdays .No regard for other peoples rights or believes. Its a dog eat dog world you keep up or get run over and left behind. 
Dec 17, 2012 9:45PM
Many,many others will be working Christmas Day.  Hotels, motels, movie houses, zippy marts, police and fire, just to name a few. Pilots, crew, airport personnel and many many more.  Having McD.'s open is really providing a service to people that do not celebrate this Christian holiday and a place to grab a quick meal for folks that are alone.  However anyone working a holiday (some need the extra money to get by) should be paid a premium.
Dec 17, 2012 9:15PM

Who in the corporate hell decides that people need to work on the Holiday that many enbjoy alll year long for?  What is wrong with McWierdo's?  Is the all mighty dollar chase that strong that youy have no heart?  As I drive to my families home this Christmas - I will not patronize your franchisees in protest of this most  ignorant of thoughts.  In fact, because of poorer service received over the past year, I'll spend my money elsewhere - like at the grocery store to epurchase food for a real Holiday Meal - and no, there won't be any fries with that.


And for my new years resolution - no more patronizing McDonalds.


Oh yeah, before I forget to tell you greedy corporate bastards, you just fell one notch below Walmart in the social ladder.

Dec 17, 2012 8:56PM
I used to work at a fast food place years ago that would usually be open on Christmas. It was completely voluntary and although employees with families usually wouldn't sign up, those of us who didn't have anywhere to go did. I was young and my family lived across the country and I didn't have enough money to fly. I was thrilled to get some extra hours and money. It sure beat staying at home alone by myself.

My point is that, while many people have families to go home to (and therefore it would be wrong to make them work), some people have different circumstances. I pray nobody has to ever spend a holiday alone, but if you ever have then you know what I am talking about.  Of course it should always be voluntary, but you can't categorize everyone, and some WOULD be happy for the work.
Dec 17, 2012 8:44PM
To the author of this article---get over it and find a life!
Dec 17, 2012 8:39PM
friend works at Mickey D's they now have a computer to tell employees when to drop french fries guess looking out the window seeing people come in the door is no longer an indicator of when to cook fries Mickey's is also a reason families and kids spend no time together do people really need food at 3 am ? I think not !
Dec 17, 2012 8:27PM
Dec 17, 2012 8:03PM
WOW.  People found a different company to down grade besides Wal-Mart.  It's about time.
Dec 17, 2012 8:02PM

I can't speak for Mc D's. But given the state of economy and cost of doing business. Utilities, insurance, food cost, rents, wages, etc. It's part of operating in America these days. My small franchise business still has rent, repairs, year end taxes to consider. And it's all higher than last year! Menu prices are not keeping up though.


Landlord, the lender, insurance company, utilities still get paid. There is no day off discount from any of them! It's still a full months payment!


Other than saving a few bucks on the electric bill, I am considering it myself. People travel and not all have a place to go. If I have employees that want to operate and many do, we may be open in the future. And I will be with them.

It's just a fact. I do not like it but I understand.

I wish more people could understand the cost of operating any type of small business. And the responsibility we have to all the expenses associated with it.


I am not a scrouge. We actually sponsor several kids every year for shop with a cop. We offer thousands of dollars a year to silent auctions for local churches, schools and fundraising. My staff gets a .10 per hour rate increase through December and another .20 if we meet sales goals. It's not a lot but I'm doing what the business allows.

There is another side of every story.





Dec 17, 2012 8:00PM
They already have profits for the year but because the almighty stock market is the ultimate goal this type of thing becomes regular practice.  CEO's should have incentives but stock options create the need to meet projected growth every year.  It's how they make the most money these days and it's based on profits not managing the company.  It's hard to meet inflated projections without either cutting costs (labor, materials, and overhead) or increasing sales.  Kind of hard to meet sales goals when the whole world is your market and its overly saturated.
Dec 17, 2012 7:51PM
All companies need to raise their moral standards. 
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