6 Reasons why a McDonald’s in Ubud isn’t as bad as you think

Image source: Adweek.com

Image source: Adweek.com

There’s been rumors of a MacDonald’s outlet opening in Ubud for a year or so.
Every time the topic is back in actuality, the same debate arises and people (mostly expats) feel the urge to side either for or against if. I used to be dead against it, I even did a skit about it but since it had the word “Hippie” in it, I got booed after 10 seconds tops (that’s to say, some crowd should really think about chilling a little).
But then I tried to step out of the gestalt and I realized that McD in Ubud is a local issue and by that I mean it’s no expat business.Beside arguments loaded with anti-americanism and monsanto hatred (justified or not), and beside the completely irrelevant fact that fast food is generally unhealthy (babi guling and teh manis will do you in the same way), some underline the facts that Ubud isn’t Kuta, and that global businesses are bad for the place.
My opinion: let the locals handle it. Here is why:

1) McD has more experience than most in handling local workforce.

What makes the difference between a multinational chain of fast food and an individual who opens a restaurant on a whim is, well, mostly everything.
Experience wise, McD has been in Indonesia since 1989 and in Bali since 1991 which is quite long time to be acquainted with the local labor laws and hyperlocal approach to labor.

It doesn’t mean McD is the perfect employer or that working there will propel employees to infinite and beyond, but such a huge structure has to provide clear contracts and HRM. You know what you’re expecting: no promise of eternal wealth, minimum wages, but it’s still better than a half time informal job at someone’s villa, and at least managers there speak Indonesian.

2) McD generates more wealth than your fancy villa.

In Bali, restaurants and hotels registered as such have to pay an extra tax and, of course, has to employ quite a lot of staff. At equal resource consumption and occupied surface, a MacD will distribute way more local wealth than any of the sacred-villa-cum-swimming-pools-built-for-AirBnB you’ll find on the island.

3) Economic colonization? Why don’t you try circle K?

According to Wikipedia, circle K, also an american brand promoting unhealthy food choices, is now running 42 outlets in Bali. These outlets are open 24/7 and employ locals in conditions rather similar to Macdonald’s. So far, I have never seen anybody complain about the rampant infestation of the franchise, even if there are at least 4 stores just in Jalan Raya Ubud.

4) Kutaification? What about blowing bubbles?

Argument tending to underline the kutaification of Ubud now also tend to make me gently smile. This is another topic I have been vocal about in the past and which got me thinking further. Yes, similarities are now to be found. Liquor stores, mindless tourists and late night beer-hunting are found slightly more often now than before, but all in all, the town is way too small and way too compact to turn into a second Kuta. The ‘No noise after 22.00’ rule is also a potent regulatory factor.

What’s more dangerous now is the proliferation of real estate projects redirecting a hotel prone clientele to less resource effective accommodation when the hotel industry in general hasn’t reached the ideal 70% occupancy rate since 2009.

Worse, the clutter occasioned by the construction and emergence of these structure isn’t met in term of infrastructure.

Right now, villa prices are still rather high, but shall longer-term tourists become tired of the increasing traffic, noise and increasing gap between what Ubud means for them and what it really is, the bubble will pop so hard they’ll hear it in Medan.

5) Tourists looking for Kuta will stay in Kuta, Balinese looking for a Big Mac will go to MacDonald’s.

Earlier in this writing, I was mentioning Circle K, which is actually more or less perpetually crowded with local customers, as is any McD outlet on this island. The Balinese have the right to iPads, Facebook, and any manifestation of our modern life. They have the right to access it, accept it or refuse it. Expecting McD to open only to attract westerners is a prodigious feat of ethnocentrism, and voicing concerns for the “poor Balinese” comes to depriving them from their agency, assuming they they cannot take decisions by themselves.

The conservation of cultural traits of the Balinese life is better handled by the Balinese themselves, neither Bali nor Ubud is some sort of controlled reservation -fortunately so.

Globalization VS Small town economy, what can be done?

Globalization is here to stay, that’s a fact and there’s no going back, at least before everyone decides, at once, that the system isn’t convenient enough.

Market economy sees that there would be a need for fast food around Ubud? Make your own, and adhere to your values: pay your staff higher than McD, provide them with extensive training, share the revenues with your Banjar, participate in the redistribution of wealth made possible by tourism.

Can’t build a fast food? These values are still applicable to smaller businesses. Build networks and lead by example.


Can’t do business? Help when helps is asked, and don’t get in the way. It’s as simple as that :)


Danny Hefer

  Free roaming opinionist, Danny spends his free time roundhouse kicking life in the nuts and doing really weird startup thingies. Even if out of context it does sound kind of gross, Danny is the Lemon's daddy.

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