One fish, two fish…

Guess who’s the biggest purchaser of Alaskan pollock is in the world?  The obvious answer might be Gorton’s (the fisherman you are urged to trust) or Red Lobster.  But think again – it’s that crazy clown down the road from your house – Ronald McDonald. 

Have you been by a Mickey D’s lately and asked yourself, “What the heck is a Fish McBite?”  I first encountered this menu offering last month back East. I assumed this was one of those regional offerings, like the McLobster Roll “down” Maine, or the breakfast burritos in…well…everywhere else.

But back in Colorado, and there it was again.  A light bulb went off: McDonald’s is leveraging Lent. And it’s no longer relying solely on the Filet-o-Fish to cast the biggest net.

The word “king” is decidedly not in McDonald’s nomenclature, but they do rule when it comes to LTO’s.  I tossed out the term when speaking to a non-food service friend who stared at me blankly.  I decided to clue them in on my restaurant vernacular.  “Limited Time Offer?” I suggested, eyebrows raised.  “Ya know, like the McRib?” 

McDonald’s has mastered the LTO, knowing just when to start it or stow it in the vault and bring it back precisely when we crave it the most.  As soon as we’ve been reunited, that fickle clown nabs it, making us sadly hum the poignant Cinderella (think Hair Band, not Disney) ballad “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone).”  And that, my friends, is how you create a cult LTO following. 

But why should we care about these seafood morsels?  Because this new menu feature is a semester’s worth of college classes rolled into a deep fried nugget of pollock served with tartar sauce. The advent of McDonald’s Fish McBites tells us about trends in food supply (ecology), distribution (business), religion (theology), nutrition (biology), menu analysis (marketing), and even government (political science).

Recently, I was in Alaska and came across a group of men who were enthusiastically sharing fish stories.  Discovering that I was a chef, they happily educated me on their business – the U.S. Fishery Department.  They were in Anchorage, not to get snockered and karaoke to “It Takes Two,” but to network, lobby and learn, all on behalf of the seafood industry.  These guys fly to Anchorage every other month to keep their sub-industries’ best interests on the table, which is a good thing, because they were abysmal as Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock.  When McDonald’s launches a nationwide fish LTO for six weeks, you better believe that was a hot topic at one of these meetings. 

The advent of the Fish McBites reinforces that our finned friends are having their biggest heyday since the premier of The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  Have you been to a restaurant in the last year where fish tacos weren’t present and accounted for?  And move over Chicken Nuggets, the Fish McBites are being offered as a Happy Meal.  Apparently, the Millennial Moms want their children to explore new foods and eat something “healthier” than Chicken McNuggets.  It’s a little McWeak of an argument, but it’s McLegit.

So if your kids are like mine, begging you to turn when the Golden Arches appear, you may want to consider a pit-stop. Over your Fish McBites, give them a liberal arts education on all the behind-the-scenes influences that go into their dinner.  It’s cheaper than the tuition at Harvard, and you can wash it down with another cult LTO…the Shamrock Shake.