Beyond simply supplying meals to athletes, fast food giant McDonald's will be responsible for training and managing key staff at the 2012 London Olympic games, according to senior executives at the company, who see the event as an opportunity to move their brand image into healthier territory.
McDonald's training managers are working in the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) to prepare training materials for the 70,000 strong army of Olympic games volunteers. The company's "corporate university" will also host training for senior Locog event staff, the company's vice president of people, Jez Langhorn, told the Huffington Post UK.
"I've had two of our training team working in Locog designing all of the training materials that will be used to train those 70,000 volunteers," Langhorn said.
"All of the event leaders, all of their training is being conducted at the McDonald's Corporate University in our head office in East Finchley. So over the course of the next four to five months all of the Gamesmakers will also receive their training in East Finchley."
Most of Locog's £2bn budget will come from private sources. McDonald's is one of the principal sponsors of the 2012 Olympics, and will be the only branded food available in the complex, with four restaurants - one in the athlete's quarters, one in the media centre and two in the Olympic Village. One, at 1,500 seats and 3,000 square metres, will be the world's biggest outlet. However, the role of preparing staff was negotiated separately, as McDonald's is the "presenting partner".
The "Gamesmaker" programme represents the largest peacetime mobilisation of volunteers in the UK since the Second World War.
Participants will take on a number of roles in the games, from greeting visitors to acting as flower and medal bearers. The arrangement, allowing a fast food company to manage recruitment and train staff, is unusual, but a spokesperson for Locog defended it, saying that McDonald's: "Have an unparalleled track record delivering consistent quality and service to millions of satisfied visitors, officials and athletes. McDonald’s expertise in customer service and training, motivating and retaining staff will help us deliver a great welcome to the world."
"The opportunity to become a sponsor of the volunteering programme was offered to London 2012 sponsors only. All sponsors were offered the opportunity to extend the level of their sponsorship by becoming ‘Presenting Partner’ of the volunteer programme," the spokesperson added.
On Saturday, in the basement of the chain's Strand branch in Central London, members of the McDonald's "crew" gathered in teams as they prepared to take part in a competition to select the 2,000 staff who will man the Olympic restaurants.
Throughout November, the company's outlets will host "super crew" events to select the best grillers, till workers and front-of-house greeters who will be given a chance to work in Stratford during the games. Out of 12,000 potential star employees, 2,000 will be selected by judging panels, based on their technical ability and teamwork, McDonald's UK CEO and President Jill McDonald, said, showing off a long checklist of grilling skills.
"There are eight judges who will judge them on their technical knowledge of working on a grill, their standards in terms of speed, but also their standards in terms of teamwork, how flexible they are. They're probably used to working on an established team within a restaurant. They need to be pretty flexible, because they're going to be part of a workforce whose coming together for the games who won't know each other, so you need people coming together for the games who are real team players."
World Cup winning England rugby coach Clive Woodward arrived later to give a motivational speech to the hopefuls and to pose for photos.
In its 15-year history of sponsoring the Olympics, McDonald's and the organisers have faced criticism for the association between a brand that is associated with high-calorie, high-fat, high-salt foods and a competition that celebrates the pinnacle of physical fitness.
The company's UK CEO said that she hopes to use the games as a chance to be "provocative" and challenge assumptions about the brand.
"One of the things that we increasingly are using it to demonstrate that McDonald's can be part of a balanced diet. There is nothing wrong with having a bit of a treat. McDonald's customers come in on average about two to three times a month. We should be part of a global event that millions of people all over the world are participating in," she said.
"That's the whole point [of sponsorship], trying to correct the misperceptions. If you look at the menu variety that we have, you can have a Caramelicious McFlurry, or you can have a chicken salad wrap, which you could enjoy five times a week if you want to. Part if it is using [the Olympics] to be a little disruptive and say 'OK, you might have some perceptions, but look, here's our menu, it's entirely possible to eat at McDonald's as part of a balanced diet.' It is quite useful to be able to use it to be provocative and challenge some of the perceptions."
The global scale and scope of the company means that there are few chains capable of dealing with the logistical challenges of the operation, she added.
The main sponsors of the London 2012, as well as McDonald's, are Coca-Cola, Acer, Atos Origin, GE, Panasonic, Procter and Gamble, Samsung, Visa and Dow Chemical - the latter of which has attracted criticism for its connection to the Bhopal chemical disaster. In 1984 a gas leak at a Union Carbide facility in India led to the deaths of thousands of people. Dow acquired Union Carbide in 2001. Activists, including Amnesty UK, have called for the organising committee to reassess their association with the company.
Locog also has a number of domestic sponsors, including Adidas, BP, British Airways, BT, EDF Energy and Lloyds TSB, with the presence of BP in particular raising the hackles of environmentalists who rankle at the juxtaposition of the much-publicised claim that 2012 will be the "greenest games ever" with a corporate backer still wound up in legal battles over a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
On that front, McDonald's is to recycle the temporary stores it will be setting up at the venue, moving equipment to other stores and making sure that the rest of the fittings are biodegradable, McDonald said. The company will also be taking "stakeholders" out to visit its UK infrastructure to emphasise its programme of local sourcing, in the hope that the event will improve trust levels amongst customers.
"It's a big investment," McDonald said. "The Olympics wouldn't be put on without brands like McDonald's and the other sponsors spending an awful lot of money. We're pleased to do that because we think there are benefits to our customers and our employees, and ourselves as a result of it."