McDonald’s, elderly Koreans reach truce on seating hours

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jan 21, 2014 - 19:18
  • Updated : Jan 21, 2014 - 19:18
A McDonald’s restaurant in New York on Monday ended a dispute with Korean senior citizens over the use of its seating area by agreeing to allow extended seating hours during its off-peak hours.

According to New York Assemblyman Ron Tae-sok Kim, who brokered the deal, the fast food restaurant promised to scrap a previous 20-minute time limit for customers during non-peak hours. Signs will also be posted in Korean and Chinese.

In exchange, the elderly citizens will avoid hogging the seats from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The deal was aimed at ending a fued that started last week when the fast-food chain called police on elderly Koreans who ignored the time limit, sitting in the restaurant from early morning until late at night.

The move sparked backlash from the Korean community in New York: The Korean American Parents Association of New York even called for a boycott of McDonald’s in protest of what it called the “mistreatment of the community’s elderly citizens.”

Jack Bert, the owner of the restaurant, vowed to prevent a reoccurrence of the incident and promised to hire Korean-speaking workers to aid the seniors.

Kim and representatives of the Korean community agreed that the incident was a simple misunderstanding and was not the result of racial discrimination.

“I don’t think McDonald’s had disregard for our rights. There were just a few ‘unpleasant situations’ because of our cultural differences,” 77-year-old Park Sang-yong said, adding that he had been eating at the restaurant for the past 13 years.

The incident is likely to have stemmed from cultural differences.

In Korea, it is not unusual for customers to stay at coffee shops for hours. Many college students visit Starbucks with laptops and write papers, or cram for their exams. Some even hold debate groups.

The culture of socializing at coffee shops dates all the way to back to the early 20th century, when establishments called “dabang” offered beverages and a place to socialize. The dabang disappeared as the country made its progress into the 21st century, but the idea of hanging out at coffee shops lingered.

For financially underprivileged senior citizens who cannot afford pricey coffees, fast-food chains became a cheaper alternative. A place to socialize is of even graver need for early-generation Korean immigrants who do not speak English fluently and need somewhere to just chat with their friends comfortably.

“For elderly Koreans, a McDonald’s restaurant is something we badly need,” 84-year-old Jo Byeong-wook said. “I’m happy that we’ve reached an agreement.”

By Yoon Min-sik (