Building off of this, we can name various intrinsic characteristics that are valuable in the generic, even if people might disagree about which deserves too billing. Virtues, one might call them.When I think of quality I think of 2 aspects.
1. Working without breaking
2. Comparative intrinsic and derived
- Functionality: does it do the thing for which it was designed?
- Efficacy: does it function with minimal maintenance/issues?
- Materials: does it have high production values, and/or use quality materials for its physical components?
- Aesthetics: does its physical appearance hold up both in comparison to other products and when examined in isolation, but over time?*
- Price: is it well-priced for its nature and purpose? Does it cut corners to achieve this, or perhaps verge into conspicuous consumption?
- Ease: is it quick or simple or other related characteristics? Does it involve a lot of overhead or learning just to get started?
- Diversity vs Focus: how well does it target its purposes? Is it trying to be too many things at once, or hyperfocused on only one thing to its detriment, or balanced between them?
- Suitability: is the purpose for which it was designed appropriate and reasonable?
Under these lights, people compare McDonald's to a variety of other restaurants specifically because doing so highlights some of these virtues. McDonald's makes great sacrifices in suitability (their food is extremely poor nutritionally), diversity (they specifically intend to offer near-uniform menus, at least in any given country, and strive for as close to uniformity worldwide as they can get), and materials (using the cheapest stuff they can justify), and some sacrifices in aesthetics albeit lesser ones (few people will intentionally eat food that looks outright "ugly.") In exchange, they offer extreme benefits in the other virtues: very low prices, incredible ease (most Americans live within two miles of a McDonald's restaurant), high efficacy (as stated, they strive for uniformity; their chicken nuggets should taste the same anywhere they are purchased), and maximal functionality (as said by others much earlier in the thread, their food is precision optimized for triggering human hindbrain positive responses, not for suitable nutrition). Other restaurants, even other openly fast-food restaurants, do not make such extreme emphasis on cheap food with incredibly basic flavor; as an example, a regional fast food chain, Burgerville, prides itself on offering much better quality food at only slightly higher prices, usually with seasonal variations. (I quite like their asparagus fries, for example.) Surely that must qualify as an apples-to-apples comparison, but that would absolutely say that McDonald's is (intentionally!) lower quality in order to sell more and be more popular!
*I'm thinking stuff like how "realistic" computer graphics often get outdated quickly, while stylized ones are often timeless, or how a metallic product with poor aesthetics can become rusty with age, giving the appearance of being badly made even if the actual material is still sound.