Something about traveling around military installations nowadays and seeing a variety of name brand restaurants and then some that are just as small as a local corner deli. Yup, the days of the enlisted club, the senior enlisted club and the officer’s club have given way to fast food giants like McDonalds, Sonic, Dominos and Subway. I don’t quite remember many, if any of these chains while I was enlisted. I vaguely remember McDonalds making its first appearance just before I separated. I remember the bowling alley and the 19h hole as being the only place to get a beer and burger at lunch. Ooops . . . did I just say that?
Seems that, long gone are the days of the base supported facilities provided by the Moral Welfare and Recreation (MWR) functions of the bases. Although this opinion is from a west coast observation, I don’t know what can be found throughout the rest of the country or overseas. I’m sure there are varying degrees of popular restaurants and fast-food chains scattered throughout the Army, Air Force, Marine and Navy bases globally. If Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA is any example, there are so many choices for the young Marine that I can now see why their pay is never seemingly enough. I think today, I would rarely, if ever, eat at the “chow hall” again. With choices like Roberto’s tacos, Coco’s, Sizzler and Chronic Cantina, who would ever need to eat at the old standby. The “old standby” could use a review someday.
I’m not sure of the contracts these facilities operate under or the amount of money that is generated for program in support of our troops, but there seems to be a “clammerin” to get a vendor spot on the base. Many of the F&B facilities operate under limited or partially modified menus or operation but they seem to be enough to draw huge crowds for mealtime. Just sit and watch a McDonalds on any base and you’re likely to see a drive-through line of many cars waiting to grab their sack of Brontosaurus Burgers and fries. It’s crazy to watch inside a McDonalds at lunch time. The McDonalds across the street from the Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton serves many meals at lunchtime one way . . . take out. The amount of paper they use on packaging is probably not even close to the number of man-hours saved and water saved for cleaning of trays during this time. I placed a very rare order from McDonald’s after being about twelfth in line and was given my bag of grub in less than 1 minute. I wasn’t asked “for here or to go”; I was told “eight dollars and thirteen cents”, and then my food spat from the back of the house almost smacking me in the face as the 60 seconds were near to expire. Their focus is obviously on customer turn-over. That’s fine, but what about the customer experience. “The hell with the customer experience, these are Marines”.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still nice facilities associated with the military bases and some actually serve up a good meal and entertainment. Just long gone are the times I remember about going to “the club” every Friday night with my babe and drinking the bar dry and dancing to local and not-so-local live bands. That was the thing to do.