A news show took a look at McRefugees (햄버거 난인), or people who stay the night in 24-hour fast food restaurants. Visitors will buy something to eat or drink, then sleep in the dining room; the 4,000 won you pay for a value meal is less than it'd cost you to stay in a jjimjilbang or a PC room. You can watch the video here, in Korean; article in English from the Korea Times:
``Those who frequent fast-food restaurants probably haven't been on the streets for long. They still look decent and can afford a cup of coffee,'' he said, adding that subway stations, which have long been popular among the homeless, are seen as dangerous and dirty by ``the picky folks.''
The same reasons gave birth to the buzzword ``McRefugee,'' which describes the new homeless generation in Japan and China who've been relying on the world's biggest fast food chain, McDonald's, to provide evening shelter.
Although these patrons have the courtesy to make minimum orders, businesses don't appreciate the shady-looking crowd camping out all night.
``We try to manage and control the growing crowd to help protect our brand image,'' said Chung, who stressed that Lotteria's general rule is to ban customers from using the facility as shelter.
My first thought? Grab a camera and send the pictures to Singapore.
In all seriousness, this phenomenon---unbeknownst to me already widespread in Japan---must be exasperating for restaurant employees and for patrons who actually came to eat. In the US many McDonald's have gone 24 hours in recent years, and in my own experienes dealing with late-night customers I know that would invite many undesirables. Fights, drugs, drunks . . . and that was just in suburban Pittsburgh. But the phenomenon shouldn't be that unfamiliar to Koreans and other Asians. If you're interested, give the book Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia a read. Part of it talks about how Asian cultures localized the fast-food experience to make it their own. Certain demographics would use McDonald's as a gathering place for meetings, or as a place to sit and talk for hours, which runs contrary to how fast-food restaurants are supposed to work. Here is the author, James L. Watson, talking about McDonald's in Hong Kong in a 2003 interview (.pdf file):
The book, Golden Arches East, outlines in detail how McDonald’s has been transformed to fit the local cultural systems it has encountered in East Asia. This is a process that I chooseto call “localization,” which to my mind is a force as transformativeas globalization itself. During the mid–1990s, for instance, highschool students were responsible for transforming many of HongKong’s McDonald restaurants into after-school social clubs. Late every afternoon hundreds of kids descended on their local McDonald’s; groups bought packets of fries and cokes. They packed them-selves into booths, poured the fries out on a tray and enjoyed a communal snack while gossiping and, supposedly, doing their homework. They stayed for approximately two hours, effectively closing down the ordinary business of the restaurant. Adults who were silly enough to arrive during this period were made to feeluncomfortable. The message was clear: “This is our place now, and we don’t want to see any adults while we are here.”
At first the local McDonald’s management tried to make the students eat faster and leave sooner, but they just sat there. Soon, however, management decided that this was an excellent development because it created the image of McDonald’s as a safe, andtherefore family-friendly, institution: No alcohol, no smoking, noprofanity, and most important in a place like Hong Kong, no triad gangsters. Management hired demobilized Gurkha troops, recently retired from the British Army, to stand at the entrance and followany triad tough who tried to infiltrate the restaurant. No one messes with Gurkhas; this was much more effective than hiring off-duty police officers. Local management began to promote their restaurants as after-school clubs, even in their television ads. Business boomed as parents gave their kids extra money to eat in a safeplace.
Meanwhile, during the mid-morning, post-breakfast period (9:30–11:00AM), another demographic group has taken over theirlocal McDonald’s restaurants. Retired people, predominantlyolder women who live alone, sit in clumps eating pancake break-fasts, talking, and reading newspapers provided free by the com-pany. These older people, like the students, are welcomed by McDonald’s managers. In both cases consumers have appropriated corporate property and converted it into public space. There arevery few alternatives in an overcrowded place like Hong Kong. Older people increasingly live on their own and enjoy congregat-ing in elder-friendly settings. McDonald’s has become a welcom-ing substitute for the disappearing parks, temples, and ancestralhalls that once sheltered Hong Kong’s older citizens.
I'll give you three guesses about what the chapter on South Korea entails. You can read parts of it here via Google Books. A couple of interesting excerpts; the first from page 144:
Since its introduction in the ninteenth century, bread has never been incorporated into the standard meal system; instead it is perceived as a snack food. The Korean term for snack is kansik, literally "in-between food." Meat, on the other hand, has always been a highly valued, desirable food, and it is eaten almost exclusively at mealtime. To attract a steady flow of customers who would make substantial purchases, McDonald's had to represent itself as a place where one ate a full meal, as opposed to a snack bar where people spend little money but stay for hours chatting. To the dismay of local management, most Koreans considered McDonald's restaurants to be snack bars . . . To change this perception, the "value meal" was introduced[.]
From page 146, in the section "Negotiating Gender, Space, and Meanings of Fast Foods":
The ratio of male to female customers in a Korean McDonald's is about 3:7. Eating a hamburger in what is perceived primarily as a children's place is not appealing to most grown men. The food-ordering process at fast food restaurants, where people have to order and pay for the food before they sit down and eat it, makes some Korean men feel uncomfortable. In traditional restaurants, customers pay after the meal is eaten, which usually results in everyone's competing to pay for the whole table. Some men told me that they feel awkward and stingy paying for just their own food. Even before the introduction of fast food, women generally felt more comfortable about dividing up the check. Another reason women like McDonald's is that, like most fast food chains and unlike most conventional restaurants, it does not serve alcoholic beverages. An alcohol-free and child-friendly environment is perceived as an appropriate and safe place for women unaccompanied by male family members or friends.
From page 153:
Management personnel I spoke with in Seoul were confident that McDonald's' could overcome the inherent difficulties of operating in such a complex environment. They were convinced that their company's efficiency and capacity to deliver good food at reasonable prices would overcome the anti-American and anti-import sentiments that inhibit business; they expected customers to put aside political concerns and make purely economic, "rational" choices. Consumers are therefore courted as individuals, not as representatives of political faactions or interest groups. Choosing McDonald's hamburgers over local foods, the management argued, should be taken as an economic decision on the part of an individual consumer rather than as symbolic behavior representing an overarching political ideology.
From page 157:
In Korea, even when friends purchase separate packets of fries, they often pour the contents onto a tray and together eat from the resulting pile. This does not, however, create the same powerful sense of commensality as sharing a rice-based meal. One can eat alone in McDonald's and not feel strange; eating in isolation at a Korean-style restaurant, on the other hand, generates feelings of loneliness and self-pity.
Those final excerpts have nothing to do with McRefugees, really, but the chapter is an interesting read nonetheless. In conclusion, Korea is a land of contrasts. Thank you for reading my essay.