Big Macs, not charged Macs

Rant: I will never visit McDonalds again, nor any other establishment where my custom cannot be rewarded by the ability to charge my computer

Even after only the briefest of spells travelling in the USA this year, I became accustomed to those creature comforts that make a travelling designer's life so much easier. Now I'm back in the UK, the difference in attitude to laptop users has become all the more stark.

Rant warning

There has been plenty written about how much more available wifi access is in the States than in the UK. Walk into a cafe or bar across America, open your laptop and there will likely be at least one free connection. Free wifi has become an added value selling point, Come in, sit down, use wifi and drink our coffee.. While in the UK wifi is now more freely available it is expensive and available often in places that you wouldn't want to hang out for longer periods of time.

Still, I'm sure that things will change in time and that free wifi will become as ubiquitous here as it is in the States. Whether the parochial attitude of people towards travelling laptop users will change is another matter. Today I was even told to uplug my MacBook by a McDonald's manager in Corby, Northants, and I quote,

You can't just expect to come in and use our electricity.

Bollocks! Yes infact I do expect that if an establishment provides wifi that I can plug in my laptop to get my work done without fear of my Mac running dry. It's not as if I would ever just walk in off the street and use their space without at least buying something, a cup of coffee, a milkshake, even a burger if I'm feeling peckish.

When I questioned why I was not allowed to use even the small amount of power that it takes to power my Mac, I was told that it was also a safety issue, and that as my computer was not electrically tested.

Just in case you happen ever to be in this area and feel like a dose of power with your burger and fries, this is the McDonald's restaurant in question that I suggest you avoid.

Phoenix Park Way
Corby NN17 5DT
Telephone: 01536 260748

So that's it, I will never visit this McDonalds again, nor any other establishment where my custom cannot be rewarded by the ability to charge my computer. Rant over, normal service will be resumed when I can charge my Mac. To McDonalds I say this,

I'm Charging It! (Elsewhere)


  1. #1 On June 22, 2006 12:34 PM Ian Fenn said:

    Hi Andy, Blame interpretation of the law. Most large organisations (corporates and academic institutions) nowadays feel it necessary to test the safety of their electric equipment. They do so to comply with the Electricity at Work regulations and Provision and Use of Work Equipment regulations. Some insurance companies also insist on it. And it's sometimes considered necessary to comply with Health & Safety requirements and ISO standards. That said, anything as recently produced as your mac ought to meet the requirements anyway. Perhaps you should get your mac tested and approved and then see what happens when you go back!

  2. #2 On June 22, 2006 12:46 PM trovster said:

    Good points Andy, but I'm with Ian, the reason they're complaining is the law that large corporate companies insist on enforcing, maybe as Ian mentioned because of insurance requirements. I remember this from working within the NHS, and every piece of electrical equipment had passed strickers on.

    I'd be interesting if you got your mac tested and approved and go back... try it out, and tell us what happens!

    Talking about free WiFi. I've only recently had a laptop, and had never bothered me before. But I took my laptop to @media, and my hotel charged for it (which I didn't bother with) and the conference centre, well, we all know about that (and we paid enough for it, not just a cheap-ass-burger & fries).

  3. #3 On June 22, 2006 12:56 PM Robert Wellock said:

    The Electricity at Work Regulations, 1989, applies wherever the Health and Safety at Work, etc., Act, 1974, applies and wherever electricity may be encountered and the equipment should be tested at least every 12 months.

  4. #4 On June 22, 2006 01:12 PM Rick Hurst said:

    a couple of things here:-

    1. the difference between the US and the UK attitude extends to service in general - in a US diner (generally) you would expect to find bottomless coffees, valued trade, (and expected tips). In the UK (generally) it is drink up and get out.

    2. I know the managers of a cafe bar in Bristol with free wifi and use of plug sockets who nearly went out of business because people stayed all day and only bought a couple of coffees and hogged a whole table each which would other wise have bought in �100's of pounds per table from the non-laptop using lunch crowd. They have now resorted to a voucher system, to make sure only people making regular purchases can stay.

    ok 3 things - don't eat at mcdonalds regardless of their wifi/power supply policy!

  5. #5 On June 22, 2006 01:15 PM Paul said:

    Further proof that this country is in a steap downwards decline - I'll add it to my lengthy list of things wrong on this island.

  6. #6 On June 22, 2006 01:23 PM Jon Hicks said:

    The first thing that went wrong was going into a MacDonalds! What were you thinking?! ;o)

  7. #7 On June 22, 2006 01:31 PM karmatosed said:

    I would also add to Jon's comment of MacDonalds being wrong the notion you were in Corby :). I live in Northamptonshire and right by Corby and can confirm that was your 2nd mistake. For Northamptonshire read dark ages with regards to anything technology wise - I am convinced the majority of this county still run windows 98 and possibly a hamster to power their puters.

  8. #8 On June 22, 2006 01:54 PM James Darling said:

    I know it's terrible stereotyping, but I wouldn't have felt comfertable getting my macbook out in a mcdonalds anyway, just incase I ever were to go in a Mcdonalds.

    but yes I agree with Jon, the catalyst of this situation was walking into Mcdonalds in the first place.

    On another note, me and my friend have successfully charged a laptop for half an hour from incredibly slow shopping in a tesco near a socket.

  9. #9 On June 22, 2006 02:00 PM Stefan Hayden said:

    I'm with you Jon. If you're not 10 and getting a happy meal McDonald's has nothing to offer. The worst food that even makes you feel bad after you eat it.

    I don't know why people think they can just lie and get away with it. electrically tested? Why can't they just say it's cause they don't want to?

  10. #10 On June 22, 2006 02:32 PM Jo�o Craveiro said:

    Well, they could have been a bit more condescending. After all, it's a McBook... ;)

  11. #11 On June 22, 2006 02:52 PM Meri said:

    @Rick, I'd agree that the normal service levels in the UK are very different to the US, but then in the UK there isn't a large pool of people who rely on tips for their income. As a result the expectations for service aren't as high, although I think that is starting to change now.

    I had the same impressions of the UK when I moved here from South Africa -- effects of a country looking after everyone, I suppose ;-)

  12. #12 On June 22, 2006 02:53 PM Carl Camera said:

    Andy, you'll be happy to hear that if/when you return to Austin, the entire downtown area will be bathed in wifi. No burger or latte purchase necessary.

  13. #13 On June 22, 2006 03:00 PM James McEwan said:

    I'm with you on the wifi problem. Here in Edinburgh, we have "the cloud" service all over the city, except only nintendo wifi is free, the rest are extortionate services like bt openworld.

    So how do the electrical equiptment regulations apply to things like @media last week? Lots of people were using extensions to the wall power supply for their laptops.

  14. #14 On June 22, 2006 03:30 PM Patrick Beeson said:

    That is absurd!

    Though I wonder what their reaction would have been if you had been using say, a Dell (arguably the corporate equivilant of McDonalds).

    I do hope you didn't eat anything -- fast food is quite dreadful.

  15. #15 On June 22, 2006 04:26 PM Simon Clayson said:

    The golden arches - lots of people use them for just the toilets when getting caught short. AND don't buy anything.

    Apart from Broadway Cinema in Nottingham, I know of nowhere - apart from some of my neighbours - who offer free wi-fi. And then there's nothing under a fiver. Hello Caffe Nero for one.

    Better not comment anymore, its more than my "jobsworth".

  16. #16 On June 22, 2006 04:43 PM Andy Croll said:

    When I was a much younger man I used to vigorously enjoy a Mac or two, but I've found in the last couple of years I've really gone off them.

    Can't quite explain the process that's occurred in my taste buds, assume that over a period of years the body learns what decent tasting food is...

    However I can't imagine a worse place to ponder on the Fine Art of Web Design than McDonalds. Although all the tables have rounded corners, that's so very Web 2.0 of them.

    For those of you who use Starbucks a.k.a. T-mobile Hotspots: apparently the cheapest way is to buy an account on the US site, given the strong pound.

  17. #17 On June 22, 2006 07:10 PM Steve Williams said:

    Macdonalds?! Chasing a chemical high for some transcendent css design inspiration per chance?

    But I know exactly what you mean: airports, cafes, bars, trains - they either want to charge a fee or don't offer wifi at all. And charging-up via a spare socket, nice one!

    Also not sure that electrical testing argument holds any water, my hotel room for @media had plenty of regular sockets to plug into and no warning labels? It's a workplace for the hotel staff...

  18. #18 On June 22, 2006 07:19 PM nick said:

    I think the issue here is everyday stupidities. Electrical testing, blah-blah� the man was just jealous because you own a Mac! ;)

  19. #19 On June 22, 2006 07:27 PM Small Paul said:

    @Paul: decline? What, did Britain *used* to be free wifi and power outlet heaven, and now it's all changed?

    I think it is illogical to offer wifi but not let one use the power outlets. I used outlets in Caffe Nero in Pimlico for 6 months without any complaints. They've got wifi at �5 for 24 hours too. That I can live with.

  20. #20 On June 22, 2006 07:43 PM Dave Scriven said:

    One of the major reasons why I haven't ever bought a laptop is what you say above. In this country a laptop is about as useful as a PC. You can't go anywhere and get free wifi even in edinburgh. Generally you can't plug things in anywhere.

    I'm quite used to sitting in corners and charging my PSP and iPod in secret.

    The one good thing I can say is that all the main rail companies have sockets on their trains and for somebody who doesn't drive and uses the trains to get everywhere it's really handy!

  21. #21 On June 22, 2006 08:31 PM Shindig said:

    Managers in McDonalds do make me laugh. I was once eatting my meal on a busy saturday, and the manager came over and asked if i could leave, so i could free up a table for someone else, this is right in the middle of my meal, i have never got in a row with anyone before, but i couldn't believe the nerve of the guy, and lets just say, that i took extra long to eat the rest of my meal.

    I dont eat McDonalds anymore, but i had one a few months back, my first one in years, it was the only thing around and i was soooo hungry, well i got such a big headache after eatting it, that i wont touch it again. I can only imagine what they put in there food!

  22. #22 On June 22, 2006 08:42 PM Joe Clark said:

    If your PowerBook didn�t meet U.K. electrical safety regulations, you wouldn�t have been able to buy it in the U.K. Your computer is not a hovercar or some kind of one-off experimental device that needs to be �tested.�


  23. #23 On June 23, 2006 09:27 AM Ben said:

    I'm with Jon here; the first mistake was going into a McDonalds and expecting to be treated like a human being in the first place! I recall a few years ago trying to buy a burger and being told that my �2 coin wasn't valid currency (back before the current silver-in-gold issue there was a limited run of extra-large pound coins worth �2; still valid until the new ones were issued).

    But I digress; I think the problem here is one endemic in UK businesses - a mean-spirited, pedantic adherence to rules as it suits them. The solution is, as ever, quite simple; a bakery I used to buy my lunch from for 3 months one day told me I had to pay 4p for a carrier bag which had previously always been free. A carrier bag with their logo on it. I told them I'd not pay for the privilege of carrying their advertising around town for them and walked out without what I'd been about to pay for, and never went back. More recently the owner of another local sandwich bar here in Cambridge quibbled over 10p on the price of a sandwich which I'd bought frequently in the couple of months since I started working in the area. He eventually relented, but patronisingly said "Next time, it'll be (x)!". I replied "There won't be a next time, buster.", and haven't gone back there since.

    The only problem, I fear, with such businesses, is they have such dominant positions in their markets that they can afford to piss off a few customers, because if they didn't they certainly wouldn't do it...

  24. #24 On June 23, 2006 04:45 PM Steven Tew said:

    I know the exact Mc D's your talking about. The one next to Asda.

    I've had problems there myself - but with my fries. They tasted funny', all chewy and stale, so I tried to complain. The response I got floored me!

    I was told by an extremely incompetent 12 year old 'manager' that McDonalds fries only have a shelf life of 3 minutes and it was my own fault that they tasted so bad; I hadn't eaten them quickly enough! Customer service par excellence!

    Suffice to say like you I've not shopped there since. Not that I shopped there much in the first place.

    But just out of curiosity, why where you in Corby? Nobody ever goes to Corby.

    I sheepishly raise my hand and say that I'm Corby born and bred, and that my little brother once worked in that very same McD.

    Sadly we Corby-ites have a poor, if somewhat incorrect and over-exaggerated, reputation - and to be honest it's mostly promoted by our own residents.

    In Corby's defence, but not McDs, I say that the people of Corby are not the most tech savvy people in the UK. We're a town founded on manual labourers relocated from Glasgow in the 1950's, who now have no prospects except to work in factories and no form of entertainment other than to get drunk and hire a DVD. Most residents who show any sign of potential leave town for Uni and never come back. Good on them I say.

    I'm one of the few who stuck around, wife and kids, mortgage, a great job at in the next town, a like with near to zero traffic congestion, loads of green open space and woodland that permeates right through the town, oh and a 3 bed house with large garden for under �60K. Sometimes, the benefits outweigh the crappy service at McDs. ;-)

    Tech wise, Northamptonshire is not in the 'dark ages'. It just depends on which tech you interested in. Talk about web tech then yes you're right, we're not London, Brighton or MK. But talk about automotive tech and Northamptonshire leads the world, which is why we have Silverstone, Santa Pod, the Rockingham Oval, BMW...

    By the way Andy, I was at @media last week and loved every minute of it - bar the two soggy sandwiches I ended up with. Unfortunately I didn�t see you talk on web design, I was lured to the dark side of Track 2, but I look forward to going again next year and hope you'll be there up at the front so I have another chance to hear your speak.

  25. #25 On June 23, 2006 04:57 PM Malarkey said:

    @ Steve Tew: I gew up in Corby (went to Kingswood School) and I'm back here visiting my family who still live on Danesholme.

  26. #26 On June 23, 2006 05:58 PM Nick Fitzsimons said:

    As others have said, we have a weird attitude to regulations in this country. A few years ago I was in a bar in Amsterdam where a cat made regular patrols up and down the bar, occasionally sniffing at people's drinks and rubbing itself against the taps. I mentioned to the barmaid that something like that would get you closed down in England, and yet our laws were based on the same EU regulations as applied in The Netherlands: didn't they ever get into trouble?

    She laughed and explained that our problem was that we made the laws required by the EU, but then we also enforced them; in The Netherlands, the authorities had more sense than to get worked up about something like a cat. "Anyway," she added, "We need it to kill the rats." I'm still not sure if she was joking, but I spent many a happy night in there, and the cat did me no harm.

  27. #27 On June 23, 2006 07:04 PM Steven Tew said:

    Wow, small world Andy!

    Like I said, anyone with sense or talent moves away!

    I'm living on the Beanfield estate, went to Beanfiled school. and work in Wellingborough (it's just like Corby but with more inbreeding ;-).

    Maybe our little town isn't so technophobic after all!

  28. #28 On June 24, 2006 04:25 AM Joe Lewis said:

    Seems like an obvious thing though - encourage customers to come in and share the free wi-fi, and not be able to power up? Laws or no, this is just ridiculous.

    The airport in Albuquerque even has a charging station to go with that wi-fi. Not that you could find a seat at that table - they put four uncomfortable-looking chairs around that thing, and two power strips with something like twenty sockets each. The rest of us huddled next to available sockets near the walls. Hmmmmmmmmm.........

    Even my favorite local pub has free wi-fi now, but I think I'm the only idiot that I have seen ever walk in there and open up a computer.

  29. #29 On June 24, 2006 05:12 PM Richard Campbell said:

    Many thanks for your recent visit to my Corby restaurant. I was sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction with the service you received and in particular the problems you had charging your laptop.

    May I however draw your and your fellow contributor's attention to the following points;

    The store in question unfortunately only has one socket on the dining area and this happens to be situated in the childrens seating area. This is a relatively small modular building with only one child size table which has three tables surrounding it for the adults to supervise. Since the socket is in the children's area we are required to cover it with a child-proof cover to prevent the possiblity of an accident. I understand from my Business Manager that you have previously removed this cover to expose the socket then trailed the lead from your laptop across the seating area while you worked. This presents the store with the following problems;

    1 There is the possiblity however small that another customer may trip over your power cable.

    2 You are using your laptop in our building which unlike my own equipment has not passed our Portable Appliance Testing. I note that some of your earlier replies refer to this legislation and although I don't make the laws I am obliged to follow them. I'm sure if we had an electrical fault and your laptop was damaged there would be an issue of liability.

    3 We are relying on you to replace the socket cover which you previously removed.

    Since you had taken to removing the safety cover my manager then covered it with DO NOT USE tape to ensure there was no repeat of this. Unfortunately despite the warning tape you still proceeded to use the socket. This was never an issue of free electricity I'm well aware that it would cost pennies to run your Mac while in the store and if this is the impression you were given then please accept my apology on behalf of the store.

    As for the issue of free wi-fi, the service in the store is provided by BT Openzone. The store has no input/control on the service, charging or it's usage and does not receive any money from BT unless you buy a voucher whilst using the store's signal. If you would like to discuss the issue of charging then please go to

    I hope this goes some way to answering the points raised and apologise for not contacting you personally. Having read your rant I thought it warranted a reply, however you only gave the manager a web address and not any personal contact details.

    I was disappointed that when you returned to the store yesterday I didn't have the opportunity to explain this in person however should you wish to contact me my details are listed below.

    Many thanks

    Richard Campbell
    McDonald's Stores 187/251/852/1242
    (please contact the store for my mobile no.)

  30. #30 On June 24, 2006 06:36 PM Luke Bosman said:

    It's worth knowing that the Health and Safety at Work Act only applies to people at work. It does not protect customers. Consequently, any suggestion that McDonald's could be liable under this legislation is, to coin a phrase, ignorant twaddle. After all, if this were really true it would be impossible to use plug sockets in hotels, on caravan sites, trains...

  31. #31 On June 25, 2006 04:04 PM Rachel said:

    I frequently find myself in a Starbucks in Soho where they have conveniently placed sockets next to the 'comfy chairs'. You have to take care not to be crushed in the stampede each time a comfy chair becomes available, but the staff don't seem to have any problems with people plugging in.

  32. #32 On June 25, 2006 06:39 PM Eric said:

    Andy: "I will never visit this McDonalds again"

    McDonalds guy: "I was disappointed that when you *returned* to the store yesterday I didn't have the opportunity to explain this in person"

    I think someone just got OWNED!!! ;-)

  33. #33 On June 26, 2006 12:54 AM Malarkey said:

    @ Richard Campbell:

    Many thanks for your considered response. I fully understand your safety concerns and I hope you understand that as a parent myself (although of a vegetarian son who does not visit your restaurants (but that's another story)), that if there was any danger of a child or an adult tripping over a power cable that it would be removed immediately. During my visits there have never been children in your restaurant.

    It is very unfortunate that the only power socket in your restaurant is situated near the children's area, trust me I looked for another one for quite some time ;). Perhaps you would think to provide an additional socket elsewhere in your store away from the childrens' area.

    Regarding the issue of safety, should another socket be provided I am sure that I and many other laptop users would be happy if a sign were placed prominantly near it saying something along the lines of;

    McDonalds accept no responsibility for any damage to your equipment that may arise from your use of this socket. You use it at your own risk.

    How about it?

    @ Eric: The BT Openzone also works in Richard's car park, something I found out yesterday while visiting the next door supermarket! :)

  34. #34 On June 27, 2006 12:16 PM Daniel said:

    Yup this is a problem that the UK has.
    Due to the nature of my work, im constantly on the move and in different countries and live with my macbook pro.

    most places outside of the UK are happy for you to sit down, grab food/drink and work as you need. In the UK though, you are made to feel like a freeloader and ushered out of the door as soon as you have finished.

    This is another reason why i have chosen to live in Bangkok and not the UK

  35. #35 On June 28, 2006 12:57 PM �i�ek g�nder said:

    �i�ek g�ndermenin en kolay yolu �i�ek g�nderme cicekclub bu işi yapar e-reklamix ise reklam işlerinizi halleder g�r�şmek �zre

    (Ed says: "Not sure what that says or in what language. It could be SPAM or it could be a glorious eulogy about England's win over Portugal this coming Saturday. So hyperlinks deleted until someone can translate.")

    (Ed says: Update: So England are out :( and this is Turkish according to Joe.)

  36. #36 On June 28, 2006 04:28 PM Reuben Whitehouse said:

    Reckon he did you a favour by discouraging you to partake of such pre-processed junk grub!

  37. #37 On June 30, 2006 02:59 AM Tony said:

    After reading the first two comments, I guess you feel a bit silly about that.

    The least you could do is take off the addresss and put an update in your post, explaining that the manager had a very valid reason for not allowing you to plug in.

  38. #38 On June 30, 2006 05:05 AM eg said:

    well, of course they won't allow you to jump their juice, that would only extend your stay. I think that's fair enough.

    Are you going to make a purchase every 30 minutes you're there? The markup on a milkshake only goes so far...

  39. #39 On June 30, 2006 11:14 AM anon said:

    Exploding Laptop anyone?

  40. #40 On July 1, 2006 07:20 PM Joe Clark said:

    Comment 35 is in Turkish with bad character encoding.