The NSW government will allow residents to use pandemic stimulus vouchers to buy cheeseburgers at McDonald’s even as the fast food giant’s Australian restaurants reported healthy profits during the virus crisis.
Macca’s is one of the fast food chains that will sign up its restaurants for the NSW government‘s “dine and discover” program, which will give eligible adults two $25 vouchers to be used for food – enough for over a hundred chicken nuggets – and another $50 for entertainment.
McDonald’s Australian restaurants were international outliers during 2020, earning praise from the company’s global CEO for raking in money as worldwide sales suffered a 7.7 per cent decline.
The burger chain opened 19 new restaurants in Australia last year and franchise owners across the country were able to use delivery and drive-through sales to stay profitable.
Meanwhile, the rest of the food industry went through wild swings as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.
One in three Australian restaurant businesses failed to turn any profit during the previous financial year, according to a recent Restaurant and Catering Association survey.
But Macca’s will still be able to benefit from the $500 million voucher program, as will sandwich chain Subway, which also confirmed it would accept the vouchers at some of its stores.
Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello, who is responsible for the program, was asked if he would encourage NSW residents to spend their voucher money at local businesses instead of multinational chains.
“Dine & Discover NSW is designed to help those businesses hardest hit by the pandemic,” he said.
“We strongly encourage eligible hospitality and tourism businesses to sign up today. The registration process is simple. With the program due to go live across the state in coming weeks now is the time to get on board.”
Shadow treasurer Walt Secord, who has been a vocal critic of the government’s slow rollout of the voucher scheme, said he didn’t object to the fast food giants participating either.
“For families on a very limited budget – who cannot afford a babysitter and are buckling under rising road tolls – a pop-in for lunch at the local Macca‘s with the kids on a Sunday afternoon is one of the few splurges available to them when they are facing so many cost of living pressures,” he said.
“I remember growing up in rural Canada and when my parents were struggling to make ends meet, a Macca’s run was the only extravagance for us kids that they could afford.”
A McDonald’s spokesman said: “We believe the state government’s ‘dine and discover’ program will provide much needed support for local cafes and restaurants.
“McDonald’s plays a key role in local communities as an employer and provider of dine in services. We know this initiative will encourage people to get out and about following the easing of restrictions.”
Most independent restaurant owners NCA NewsWire spoke to seemed to accept the global fast food chain would participate in the scheme, although some said they wished residents would go local with their vouchers.
“I have no problem with McDonald’s or Subway (…) but local businesses, whether big or small, seem to suffer more in these times,” said O Tama Carey, owner of the restaurant Lankan Filling Station in Sydney’s Darlinghurst.
“(The vouchers are) a good opportunity for people to try new places. And it’s also about the diversity you get with local businesses, rather than the chains. It’s about encouraging that diversity within the community with different small places, because they’re always the ones that are going to close first rather than the chains. McDonald’s isn’t going to go out of business.”
Celebrity chef Neil Perry said he hoped people would support local businesses.
“The more local the better,” he said.
But he added that any business, even if it was McDonald’s created job opportunities for communities around the state.
“Any business, big or small, they all employ Australian local kids. I think it’s just a matter where people feel they want to spend the money,” Perry said.
Likewise, restaurateur Luke Mangan said the stimulus money would do good wherever it was spent.
“Wherever people spend money, it’s going to keep people in jobs,” Mr Mangan said.