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McDonald's launches into Air and Space

By Thurston Hatcher

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- It's already got great airplanes and grand Apollo relics. Now it's adding golden arches.

The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum has announced plans to replace its current restaurant with a McDonald's-run eatery.

"We wanted to increase the efficiency and give people a good meal in a comfortable environment at a reasonable price, and I think that's what we're going to be able to do here," retired Marine Corps. Gen. Jack Dailey, the museum's director, said Wednesday.

The Washington, D.C., museum plans to close its Flight Line restaurant September 10, and reopen the area next spring after extensive renovations. The new restaurant will feature McDonald's, Boston Market and Donatos Pizzeria, all of which are owned by the McDonald's Corp.

McDonald's already predicts the 1,000-seat restaurant, the first to showcase all three brands in one place, will be its busiest daytime operation in the country.

"I think all the projections show this is going to be win, win, win for McDonald's, the Smithsonian and the millions of visitors who go there," McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker said.

The National Air and Space Museum attracts an average of 9.2 million visitors each year, making it the most visited museum in the world, officials say.

More patrons, lower prices

Dailey said the museum needed to improve its ability to handle large crowds of diners and keep them in the museum. Many were leaving to eat elsewhere, including a McDonald's down the street, he said.

The new restaurant is expected to be able to serve 33 percent more people at peak times. Officials also say a family of four will spend roughly 15 percent less than it currently does for a comparable meal.

McDonald's has guaranteed the venture will be profitable, Dailey said, noting that the restaurant is an important source of revenue at the museum, which charges no admission fee.

Commercial Alert, a public interest group that has criticized the Smithsonian for recent partnerships with businesses, took aim at the McDonald's move.

"The mission of the Smithsonian is to increase the diffusion of knowledge, not the diffusion of junk food," executive director Gary Ruskin said.

Dailey dismissed the criticism, noting the museum already had a private contract for food service.

"All we've done is change the contract. The fact the McDonald's is a more recognized source or brand name is the only difference," he said.

• Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
• McDonald's
• Commercial Alert

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