With leather couches and coffee mugs instead of plastic chairs and paper cups, McDonalds in Germany is looking at attracting new customers. Some employees would like to see their working conditions improved.
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The world's biggest food retailer, McDonald's has decided Germany is ripe for the McCafe -- a coffee shop integrated into McDonald's restaurants offering drinks from cappuccinos to lattes, as well as panini, cookies and cakes.
Around 240 of Germany's 1,276 McDonalds have been renovated to incorporate the snazzier-looking McCafe, and at least another 100 are expected to follow this year.
The dark brown leather chairs, sleek wood deco and shiny glass displays are a giant step away from the shrill yellow and red plastic traditionally associated with McDonalds restaurants -- and they are proving popular with customers.
The turnover in the redesigned stores has increased by 10 percent to 15 percent.
"We assumed that the McCafe would attract younger people, but surprisingly the over-50s, who otherwise never enter a McDonalds, are coming," said McDonald's Germany chief, Bane Knezevic, in an interview with the German daily Tagespiegel.
Gourmet coffee on the rise
Trendy coffee chains such as Starbucks and Balzac have been mushrooming in Germany's big cities -- and McDonald's just wasn't proving attractive to those who wanted to chill out and choose from a wide variety of coffees.
McDonald's is giving many of its German restaurants a make-over
"For a long time, we weren't modern enough for our customers," Knezevic said. Though it has also taken a while for the McCafe to come to Germany -- they were first introduced in Australia in 1993.
Knezevic also said McDonald's would introduce coffee beans certified by the Rain Forest Alliance. Although McDonald's might be moving in a socially responsible direction with its coffee, the chain reportedly still has room for improvement when it comes to its employees.
Accusations against McDonald's
In a report on Germany's public ZDF television broadcast on April 3, former McDonald's employees listed a series of complaints against the food chain, including arbitrary firings and the bullying of works council representatives.
Former employees interviewed by ZDF tell of attempts to buy off works council representatives. They also accused McDonald's of having a policy of employing young people with immigrant backgrounds and firing anyone who complains.
After asking for a pay rise, and saying she wanted to establish a works council, former McDonald's employee Nicole Wieseler was fired after seven years working for the company.
"I was fired without notice just before the end of my holiday, and they also gave me a written order banning me from all McDonald's restaurants," Wieseler told ZDF.
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"They didn't give me a reason, and I just didn't understand it," she added. "I found the ban pretty harsh -- it was hung up in all restaurants. I felt like a murderer."
Wieseler took case to court and won. McDonald's maintains Wieseler's dismissal had nothing to do with her union activity.
McDonald's in Germany has more than 52,000 employers, but there are only 17 works councils -- these are employee committees that give voice to workers' concerns.
"We don't have anything against unions," Stefan Fehr, the head of McDonald's' personal department in Germany, told ZDF. "It's up to our workers to start up works councils and not us."