Sometimes there are just some things that even I, can’t make up. I’m going to skip the Costsco bridal dresses….just for a second. I saw this in Sunday’s NYT and thought – no, really. No REALLY?!? I just had to post this for you all to see.
Kelvin Kwong and Ashley Tse at their Feb. 14 engagement party at a McDonald’s in Hong Kong.
HONG KONG — As classical Muzak blasted from a loudspeaker, Kelvin Kwong got down on one knee and declared his love for his fiancée, Ashley Tse, in front of a rowdy media scrum. Their engagement party on Valentine’s Day was the inaugural event of a new and aggressively promoted nuptial service at McDonald’s restaurants in Hong Kong, the first in the world to offer McWeddings.
About a week later, the first real wedding ceremony in a McDonald’s was held here involving a different couple, though the bride and groom, perhaps understandably, decided not to invite the press.
In 2006, Hong Kong changed a law to allow for weddings held outside of places of worship or City Hall. Entrepreneurs quickly offered ceremonies on boats, in shopping malls and even under water in the aquarium of the Ocean Park theme park. McDonald’s, which has been in Hong Kong since 1975, is the first fast-food chain to get in on the lucrative trade.
The local wedding industry is worth about 10.7 billion Hong Kong dollars, or $1.37 billion, a year, according to ESD Life, an online media outlet. An ESD survey of 1,781 people found that the average couple spent about $29,200, mostly to give face to families with lavish banquets, multiple outfit changes and even dowries, which are still paid in this otherwise modern city.
Given that average monthly household income is only about $2,250, it is not uncommon for young couples — or, frequently, the groom’s family — to save for years or to go into debt to pull off a wedding.
By contrast, a McWedding starts at $1,280, which includes food and drinks for 50 people. The package includes a budget version of the usual trappings: a “cake” made of stacked apple pies, gifts for the guests and invitation cards, each with a wedding photo of the couple. (Hong Kong wedding photos are taken in advance, with the couple in rented finery.)
McDonald’s employees dressed in black suits mimic the actions of hostesses at upscale hotels. They greet guests at the entrance, usher them to the signature book and deliver food, even if it is just a Big Mac and fries.
Before the engagement party started, Shirley Chang, managing director of Hong Kong McDonald’s 226 outlets, sat beneath a display of pink balloons, in a fuchsia Chinese-style top with traditional butterfly clasps and a decidedly nontraditional Golden Arches logo.
She explained that McWeddings were devised in line with local customs, particularly Chinese numerology beliefs that determine the best dates for weddings or other important events. The engaged couple was given a photo frame shaped like Ronald McDonald, marked with the “limited edition number” 138, an auspicious figure.
McWeddings were first announced on Oct. 10, 2010, because “10-10-10” is another lucky combination.
The lack of alcohol has not seemed to bother anyone, and Ms. Chang said there had been no requests for it so far. Instead, couples toast with something sugary, because of the implications of “sweetness” in Chinese belief. “That’s why we toast with sundaes,” she said. “You can have a lot of fun with soft drinks.”
According to Ms. Chang, 50 to 60 nuptials are under negotiation with Hong Kong McDonald’s party-planning managers.
“Everyone wants a tailor-made wedding, and everyone is working on picking the best dates based on the lunar calendar,” said Ms. Chang, who started working for McDonald’s in 1984 in her native Taiwan.
Gordon Mathews, an anthropologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explained the appeal of a McWedding.
“The generation getting married today grew up doing their studying at McDonald’s,” Mr. Mathews said. “That was one of the chain’s prominent roles in the 1980s and 1990s — as a safe haven where students could study and stay off the streets.
“In the U.S. and other places, middle-class or upper-middle-class people look down on McDonald’s,” he said. “But Hong Kong is different. A McDonald’s wedding wouldn’t be seen as tacky here.”
The success that McDonald’s has had in blending into this social landscape may foretell how it will fare in the mainland Chinese market, which it entered in 1990 with an outlet in Shenzhen, near the Hong Kong border. There are 1,300 McDonald’s on the mainland, and the company hopes to expand to 2,000 outlets by 2013.
The company’s Hong Kong operations have been largely free of the anti-McDonald’s protests held elsewhere, partly because antiglobalization and anti-obesity movements are not as strong here as they are in the West.
“Internationally, McDonald’s has become an icon of fast-food culture and there may be a stigma,” said Dr. Francis C. C. Chow, president of the Hong Kong Association for the Study of Obesity. “But while we do have issues with fast-food culture, it’s not just McDonald’s.”
“It’s a matter of proportion,” Dr. Chow said. “Chinese foods like mooncakes or fatty pork are not healthy either, and should not be eaten every day.”
If anything, McDonald’s is seen as a relief from strict cultural rules. In “Golden Arches East,” a 1997 study of McDonald’s in Asia, James L. Watson, an anthropologist at Harvard, described the chain’s “egalitarian environment” as a selling point — nobody had to be embarrassed at not ordering the same expensive dishes as the next banquet table, and people of all classes could participate.
“I had a traditional Chinese wedding myself,” said Ms. Chang, the managing director. “It was so formal and it seemed like everyone was so happy except for me. I was dressed so beautifully, but I couldn’t even eat. Now, the focus is on the couple having fun.”
Back at the party for Mr. Kwong and Ms. Tse, the hostess was leading guests through a rowdy game involving balloons. They seemed genuinely happy and not self-conscious at all, and repeatedly raised their milkshakes to toast the couple, the McDonald’s management representatives and even the journalists covering the event.
But when asked if he would have his actual wedding at the same place, Mr. Kwong demurred.
“I heard that some people get married on the beach,” he said.