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Consumers give up fine dining for McDonald's meals

Posted: March 6, 2009 1:01 a.m.
Updated: March 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Cashier Cindy Valencia, right, takes an order during the lunch hour at McDonalds on Bouquet Canyon Road Thursday. Fast-food companies are posting strong sales as the economic downturn spreads and people turn away from pricey restaurants.

 
Eric Riley, of Santa Clarita, has frequently found himself dining at fast-food restaurants twice a day since the economy took a toll on his food budget.

"I just paid five bucks right now and got a four-piece chicken nuggets, chicken sandwich, small fries and medium drink," he said Thursday at a Valencia McDonald's during his lunch break.

Cash-strapped consumers buying McDonald's burgers and breakfast items helped the fast-food company post a 7.1 percent worldwide increase on same-store sales for the month of January, according to the Associated Press.

The nation's No. 1 hamburger chain has been posting strong sales as the economic downturn in the U.S. spreads overseas and people turn away from pricier restaurants in favor of grocery stores and fast-food outlets.

Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's had a strong quarter with same-store sales jumping 3.7 percent at North American locations, according to the AP. The restaurant was able to expand sales even though about 300 fewer locations served breakfast in the fourth quarter than did a year earlier.

However, Arby's same-store sales, or sales at restaurants open at least a year, dropped 8.5 percent in North America - a drop the company blamed on promotions and discounting by competitors.

Shannon Ross, of Saugus, took her son William to McDonald's as a treat for his good report card Thursday, but Ross said the restaurant has become more of an option for family dining.

"I tend to sway this way, trying to go with more value (menu) type items," she said. "It's going to cost a lot less to come here then go to (dine-in restaurants) so I wasn't disappointed when (William) wanted to come here today. I'm trying to cut back like everyone else."

McDonald's local success is positive for its 300 employees, said Mark Schutz, a local McDonald's co-franchisee.

"We are very, very lucky. It's great to see," he said. "Employees know they have job security because it's busy."

Increasing numbers have also allowed the franchise to give over $15,000 to local schools, Schutz said.

One local nutritionist said the trend towards fast food dining has not escaped the attention of those in her field.

"Yes, (the trend is) definitely happening," said Clarissa Mantle, clinical nutrition manager at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

"From the nutrition journals and information that the dieticians read, that's what we're finding. But we're also noticing it in just talking with people. It's a less expensive option and that's what they're kind of headed for. Unfortunately, it's not the healthiest option."

Mantle said if the trend continues, increases in health issues such as high cholesterol levels, will start to reveal themselves. But Mantle understands people are trying to cut back and said if people choose to eat out, they can make wise choices.

"Just simple things like portion control - they don't have to order the double supersize special," she said. "They can have the smaller single hamburger patty, make substitutes - instead of french fries have a salad, some of them even offer apple wedges."

Mantle said fast food Web sites and posted nutrition facts can be used as a tool for those concerned about fat, cholesterol or sodium intake.

Schutz said McDonald's salads have been a big hit.

"We are a hamburger place," Schutz said. "But there's a lot of things we do have people can mix and match when they do come that they can get a balanced lifestyle and nutrition."

McDonald's customer Sue Leibsker, of Canyon Country, is pleased with the options McDonald's is providing.

"I think McDonald's is starting to have a few better choices," she said. "I like the yogurt and things that aren't so full of fat.

Hopefully they'll continue on that train."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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