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One of the odd yet fun assignments I had as head of corporate communications for McDonald’s was in helping build a relationship with Warren Buffett, who had quietly acquired a $1.5 billion position in McDonald’s stock. We decided to award him a rare McDonald’s Gold Card, entitling him to dine free at McDonald’s. We had Tiffany design and make the special card. Then we distributed Buffet’s photo to all the McDonald’s restaurants in Omaha, his home town, so they would recognize him if he presented the card. When I attended  a teacher’s award dinner he sponsored in Omaha, he was asked if he ever carried cash, and he pulled out his McDonald’s special card, telling the teachers he was most proud of it, but never had the courage to actually use it.

In the news story below, Bill Gates tells of the Chinese McDonald’s coupons we once provided Gates and Buffett, who chartered a train to travel together across China with their families. Buffett had contacted us before the trip, saying he knew he’d miss McDonald’s as they traveled through China, so could we please give him a map of the McDonald’s locations along his route. We did, and also gave the families a supply of Chinese McDonald’s coupons to use.

The Rob Lowe story below refers to the inventor of the Egg McMuffin, franchisee and former ad man Herb Peterson. Peterson created McDonald’s first breakfast item in the late 70s, introducing it to chairman Ray Kroc as “a poor man’s eggs benedict.”


Headline: Some of the richest billionaires in the world still eat at McDonald’s

1 Hour Ago

These billionaires have all the money in the world -- and they still eat at McDonald's

These billionaires have all the money in the world — and they still eat at McDonald’s

Despite their ability to spend, spend, spend, even some of the richest people in the world stick to a few frugal habits. For a few billionaires, that means opting out of Michelin-starred restaurants in favor of an American classic: McDonald’s.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was spotted eating a grab-and-go McDonald’s meal on the Mignanelli Steps near Piazza Spagna in Rome during his honeymoon with his new wife Priscilla Chan in 2012.

Legendary investor Warren Buffett loves the Golden Arches as well. He visits the restaurant every day for breakfast and never spends more than $3.17.

On his five-minute drive to the office, which he’s been doing for the past 54 years, Buffett stops by McDonald’s and orders one of three items.

Warren Buffett's McDonald's breakfast policy always keeps his meals under $3.17

Warren Buffett keeps his breakfast under $3.17

“I tell my wife, as I shave in the morning, I say, ‘Either $2.61, $2.95 or $3.17.’ And she puts that amount in the little cup by me here [in the car],” he explains in HBO’s documentary, “Becoming Warren Buffett.”

Each amount corresponds with a different option at McDonald’s. For $2.61, he can get two sausage patties, $3.17 gets him a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit and $2.95 buys him a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit.

Buffett keeps it frugal even when treating his friends to lunch. In Bill and Melinda Gates’ 2017 annual letter, which they addressed to longtime friend Buffett, Bill tells the story of a particularly economical lunchBuffett took him out for years ago.

McDonald's Quarter Pounder hamburger

Getty Images
McDonald’s Quarter Pounder hamburger

“Remember the laugh we had when we traveled together to Hong Kong and decided to get lunch at McDonald’s? You offered to pay, dug into your pocket, and pulled out … coupons!” he writes.

Both Buffett and Gates are frequent enough patrons to Mickey D’s that they’ve earned the chain’s coveted Gold Cards. In a 2007 interview with CNBC, Buffett shared the contents of his wallet, showing off his card, which lets him eat for free at any McDonald’s in Omaha for the rest of his life.

“So that’s why the Buffett family has Christmas dinner at McDonald’s,” he laughs. “It explains a lot of things.”

Warren Buffett's most eccentric traits

Warren Buffett’s most eccentric traits

The cards are rare. While Buffett’s is only good in Omaha, he explains that Gates’ card gets him free meals anywhere in the world. “Mine is only good in Omaha, but I never leave Omaha so mine is just as good as his,” he says.

Billionaires aren’t the only ones who can boast of Gold Card privileges — although if helps to know someone. In 2015, actor Rob Lowe revealed his own card during a segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “My buddy’s dad invented the Egg McMuffin,” he says. “Which, to me, is like the greatest human achievement.”

Like Buffett’s card, Lowe’s was limited. He could only use it at McDonald’s franchises in Santa Barbara or Goleta, Calif., and it expired after a year, in 2016.

The original McDonald's

Dick and Mac McDonald’s original drive-in, walk-up service restaurant in San Bernardino, CA, as it looked when they completed the renovation from their old bar-be-que, car hop restaurant, in 1948. Showing an autograph by “Richard J. McDonald, Founder.”

Fortune Magazine has just announced their 2012 Most-Admired Companies list, and McDonald’s ranked in the top 20 (#11), between Southwest Airlines and J&J, and above Disney, GE, American Express and Microsoft. McDonald’s ranked #1 in use of corporate assets, and #2 in management quality, financial soundness and global competitiveness. Of course, they ranked #1 in the food service industry.

Back in the mid-90s, I worked with the editors of Fortune to get McDonald’s considered for these annual rankings of corporate reputation and success..

When censuses and surveys today ask people how often they “dine out,” I don’t think people know what is being asked. While the intent may be to determine how often and where people eat away from home, I think the “dining out” question suggests to many people a white tablecloth “dining” experience. Many Americans, I believe, seldom go to “white tablecloth” restaurants, yet I find it hard, no, impossible to believe, that if you include fast food and all the kinds of eating experiences other than home, even if you exclude food brought from home, that no-one but an invalid does not participate in “dining out” experiences. Statistics should always be suspect, but fallible humans write the surveys. See this article for some good example of what I mean:

Interbrand’s new study of the best global brads for 2010 is out, and McDonald’s remains the world’s foremost restaurant brand, at #6 in the overall ratings, between GE and Intel. The estimated value of McDonald’s brand, according to Interbrand’s study, is more than $33 Billion. Here are their comments on McDonald’s:

“The market leader in its category, McDonald’s remains globally versatile, approachable, value-driven and reliable in a year when Burger King fell off the table. Already a strong brand with deep roots, the recession reminded people once again of its great value. McDonald’s seized the opportunity to capture a new audience and drive sales even further by upgrading its coffee to make it more premium and introducing healthier menu options – a move that should help it in the long-term. This, along with constant rollouts of new café concepts and contemporized environments, put McDonald’s in more consideration sets for more occasions. The brand wins A’s all around for its corporate citizenship efforts, as well as its social media endeavors (particularly “Voice of McDonald’s”).”

Seems the Wall Street Journal is reporting that some group called the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, headed by a former PETA board member, is taking a page out of the PETA songbook, and running a TV commercial in Washington D.C. that asserts a vegetarian diet by associating a McDonald’s hamburger with a body in the morgue, and the issue of heart disease.

While McDonald’s is a convenient target, it’s because of their recognizability, not because they deserve it. This organization’s attack on McDonald’s in fact does disservice to the real issue of heart disease by pointing a finger at a progressive company that takes its responsibilities to the dining public very seriously.

Here is my comment posted with the Journal article:

McDonald’s offers an array of food choices, has pioneered full nutritional disclosure, offers more balance, choice and portion control than most white-table cloth restaurants, and is a socially responsive and socially responsible business that is a model of employment diversity, entrepreneurial and managerial opportunity, and sound business ethics. If the public really wants peanut butter sandwiches at McDonald’s, they’ll probably get it.

As an old fast food guy, I’m happy to see so much creativity going into new beverage offerings in the business. But what seems missing to date are new diet versions of these drinks, for those of us who love the taste (and what pros call the “mouth feel” of crushed ice and creamy stuff), but have to push away from the excess calories and fats. Beverages are highly profitable, and will be more so when there are more low-cal options.

My old media friend Scott Hume brings the story up to date in his latest entry in his blog atβurgerβusiness%29

March 2023

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