Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Hollis Glaser

Second Advisor

Dr. Randall Rose

Third Advisor

Dr. Lourdes Gouveia


The purpose of this study was to examine the family meal at McDonald’s as a family dinner ritual and as an arena for socialization of children. A field study, including six McDonald’s restaurants in Omaha, Nebraska, was conducted during the months of May and June. Approximately 25 hours of observations were recorded using the method of participant observation. The main sample consisted of 58 families (adults with children) and included single mothers, single fathers, two-parent families, as well as grandparents with children and other family constellations with children and adults. The most common family type at McDonald’s was single mothers with children. The families in the main sample were predominantly white, but blacks, Latinos, and Asians were also represented. The family dinner ritual at McDonald’s was characterized as a ‘happy meal’, although it is lacking in-depth conversation. Since McDonald’s seemed to take care of most of the practicalities in the preparation phase and provided entertainment in the form of toys for the children, a play area, and TVs, the families were free to enjoy their meal. From their parents and the McDonald’s environment, children are taught a number of lessons about public behavior, food, meals, gender roles, and environmental issues. It is hypothesized that the ‘happy meal’ experience offered at McDonald’s is the key to McDonald’s popularity among parents with young children and especially single parents. The overall socialization of children at McDonald’s is discussed and the notion of ‘happy meals’ is critically evaluated.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Communication and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1998, Joy Sandersen-Smith