“The McDonaldization thesis: Is expansion inevitable?” by George Ritzer


In his theory, Weber asserts that once exploited, rationalization would transform the social life all over the world. The theory further argues that less grip on the traditions and customs within the society, results into efficient novel practices contrary to the customary practices. Weber concludes that the concept of rationalization would come to dominate all the spheres of human thriving since he believes in the continued decrease on revolutionary counterforce.

Because of Weber’s idea, the social life has turned to ‘an iron cage’ in which increase in rationalization is inevitable. Weber’s theory forms the basis of Ritzer’s McDonaldization thesis. In his argument, Ritzer incorporates Weber’s inexorable character and the primary components of the rationalization process.

Weber’s argument is based on the paradigm of bureaucracy while Ritzer’s thesis hinges on ‘fast-food restaurant’ traceable to McDonald’s chain of restaurant of 1955. Ritzer argues that, with the embodying of the rationalization principles, many fast –food restaurants emulated McDonald’s model, which has spread to other social sectors. This article explores the Ritzer’s thesis.

McDonaldization and five dimensions

McDonaldization is a phenomenon in which the concepts of fast-food chains have become predominant in the most sectors of the society. Ritzer invented the term to describe the sociological transformations which were deemed efficient than the traditional practices.

Ritzer posits, “McDonaldization is the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world” (292). It is indeed a rationalization process. Ritzer organizes several empirical examples into five features of McDonaldization, viz. predictability, efficiency, calculability, control, and irrationality. These features constitute a rational system.

Efficiency is the process of realization of the desired end by deployment of the optimum means. All sectors in the society seek for efficiency in accomplishment of their goals; the difference however is, McDonaldization imposes efficiency onto the individuals. In fact, McDonaldization leads to blind adoption of methods of efficiency. It may vastly affect either consumers’ or employees’ efficiency (Hannigan 454).

In his thesis, Ritzer presents salad bars as an example: in essence, consumers buy a plate and then proceed to the bar to create their own salads. This ensures efficiency in service delivery to the restaurant. In order to enhance efficient action between the customers and employees, the fast-foods restaurant have laid down rules, structures, regulations and norms which employees and the customers have to conform.

Calculability is another dimension of McDonaldization in which the assessment emphasizes on the amount of the outcome, at the expense of quality. As Ritzer puts it, timing is a very significant concept in McDonaldization (292).

The McDonaldized society requires employees to accomplish their task within the shortest time possible. In fact, it emphasizes on the speed of execution of tasks within the restaurant either by the customers or by the employees. As Ritzer reveals, the customers should spend little time possible in the restaurant while the employees should record high output regardless of the quality.

Predictability is greatly involved in McDonaldization whereby it emphasizes on formalization, discipline, systemization, and routine. According to Ritzer, people in such societies prefer to predict expectations in various time and settings (293). In such, employees should act in a predicted manner while customers should behave in a similar predicted way.

Control is another aspect of McDonaldization in which the system controls both the employees and the customers. By the increased mechanization, employers ensure they are in close control of the process of rationalization. Irrationality is the final feature of McDonaldization, which involves the adverse effects of the over-rationalization.

Ritzer presents an example of inefficiency in which the long queues of cars or customers characterize the fast-food centers today (294). McDonaldization results into dehumanization for employees work under dehumanizing conditions while the customers dine in dehumanizing environments as well.

Evidences of the temporal expansion of McDonaldization

The current society has rationalized the process of McDonaldization resulting into ‘birth.’ Ritzer supports the argument by presenting variety of techniques, which he refers to “high-tech baby making” (298).

Such evidences include Amniocentesis and other sex determination of the unborn, ultrasound technology for diagnosis of genetic defects within the foetus and an artificial insemination to achieve the required ‘breed’ of the unborn. McDonaldization has also rationalised the process of giving birth through progressive deployment of automated systems rather than the traditional midwives.

Actually, McDonaldization has bureaucratized the childbirth through adoption of standard procedures of the process in hospitals. Ritzer gives an example of the pathologic process, which involves episiotomy to improve the efficiency of childbirth. McDonaldization extends to the life of the baby in the world. At their early ages, medical practitioners provide a calculable system in which they monitor the general growth of the newborn.

McDonaldization of death starts before an individual dies. It begins with the medical effort to salvage the life as much as possible through continuous deployment of technologies that accentuate on maximization of time the patient remains alive with no focus on quality of life and the computer systems in constant assessment of patient’s survival chances (Ritzer 299).

The increased numbers of deaths occurring in hospitals and health care centres also underscore McDonaldization. Beyond death, as Ritzer argues, we are not yet free from McDonaldization. Ritzer provides cremation as an example of rationalization of death.

Personal reaction

The five ingredients of McDonaldization have spread into other spheres of life, which Ritzer did not address. In the education system, there are set rules, regulations, routine and standards that aim at efficient service delivery. Use of non-humans is generally on the increase in order to maintain control of the processes (Hannigan 455). The outcome of the performance is predictable and assessable through quantification.

Other areas in which it has spread include manufacturing, health and political sectors. With the increase in the need for efficiency, control, predictable and calculable systems in the society, most sectors continue to rationalize all their processes. The banking sector is an exemplary with constant application of McDonaldization particularly through the introduction of ATM machines. This technology improves efficiency for the banking operations.

Despite the expansion, there are several factors, which act to impede its growth. Culture is the major barrier to McDonaldization. Most societies are used to their customs and hence reluctant to espouse other practices (Lippmann and Aldrich 140).

Lack of sufficient funds for major overhaul associated with McDonaldization is another factor that prevents most societies from it. The fear of irrationality of rationality is the final impedance to the expansion. Although McDonaldization emphasizes on efficiency, it has resulted into inefficiency in most of the overhauls in the society.

Since there is strict control, the employees end up not thinking. This results into deskilling of the workers. Finally, customers in the ‘fast-food restaurant systems’ become ‘unpaid employees’ by offering services to themselves without direct interaction with the employees. This results into dissatisfied service delivery to the customers. In spite of these factors, McDonaldization continues to spread all over the societies.


In my opinion, McDonaldization is spatially and temporally as “inexorable” as Ritzer claims. With the increase in the need for efficiency, predictability, calculability and control within our social systems, McDonaldization expansion is indeed inevitable. In a recap, McDonaldization is turning people into robots; lazy beings void of creativity and in the final analysis, it will rob the society of its ‘social well-being.’

Works Cited

Hannigan, John. “The McDonaldization society.” APA Journal 69.4 (2003): 453-460.

Lippmann, Stephen, and Aldrich, Howard. “Rationalization of everything? Using Ritzer’s McDonaldization Thesis to teach Weber.” Teaching sociology 31.2 (2003): 134- 145.

Ritzer, George. “The McDonaldization Thesis: Is Expansion inevitable?” International Sociology 11.3 (1996): 291-307.