McDonald’s. Founded in 1940 as a hamburger stand, what was once a shining example of America’s hallmark fast food as it invaded strip malls and complexes in 120 countries is today the butt of all jokes on Wendy’s Twitter account (She’s relentless). In this article, we discuss the top 10 fails of the restaurant giant.
McSoup is not only the least appealing McDonald’s item in a long, long time, it’s also just Campbell’s Soup poured into a red cup with Golden Arches to justify the prefix. The McSoup is sold in Campbell’s Broccoli & Cheese and Chicken Noodle variants, available only in the winter in select locations. While the item may have been a bid to imitate its more domestic rivals, it was pulled from the menu because it was also, well, pretty terrible. Its thick consistency and moldy taste made it a very unprofitable venture, and for America’s own good, Campbell’s Soup cans shall, fortunately, continue to be confined to only cans.
Yes, McDonald’s can’t fit a country between two buns as hard as it might try, but its debacle in Vietnam definitely qualifies to be a part of this list. As a fast food chain with over 36,000 locations across the world, McDonald’s could manage only a meager 17 in the Southeast Asian country. Why? Because the Vietnamese are spoilt for choice. When McDonald’s entered the market in 2014, natives of the country thronged its locations because of its novelty amongst the usually indigenous cuisine, but over the years, the popularity of the restaurant chain has waned, largely owing to its local competition. Street vendors in Vietnam sell rivaling, faster, and cheaper fast food like pho or banh mi sandwiches.
But this hasn’t held the restaurant back. In the past 4 years, McDonald’s has introduced a number of items into its Vietnamese menu to appeal the locals, including a Grilled Pork Rice with Egg item, but mimicry of available and cheaper options a stone’s throw away from their locations has ensured that raking in customers is still difficult. To make its mark in Vietnam, not only does McDonald’s need to up its game, but it also has to factor in the political disenfranchisement between USA and Vietnam (Westernization is seen with a contempt that is nearly 50 years old). While franchises like KFC and Pizza Hut prosper in the country (They feature shareable food and many chicken items, which Vietnamese families value), the burger giant pales in the country’s international cuisine market.
8. Big N’Tasty
If you’re going to copy another fast-food giant, well, the dish better be big and tasty. Forever at loggerheads with its competition, McDonald’s attempts to replicate the success of Burger King’s Whopper are a long-winding story of love, revenge, and pain. Just kidding.
Both fast food giants have taken every chance to throw very public and very amusing airs at each other (Read: The Whopper Detour, Burger King’s McWhopper invitation to end bad blood, and so on), but their best and most successful jabs are just good ol’ imitation burgers. The Big N’ Tasty attempts to mimic the Whopper in every sense, complete with the dill pickles and sesame seed bun. And while the product itself was not exactly a failure, the adaptation doesn’t remotely live up to the real thing. This isn’t even McDonald’s first attempt at copying Burger King – earlier failures such as McDLT and BigXtra did little to deter them. During its 14-year run (it may have been a failure, but it was an enduring one), the burger jumped between different menus (Displacing the BigXtra first, then featuring on the Dollar Menu, and then eventually ending up being wiped off the menu in 2011) and just like its previous brothers, was a result of McDonald’s true desire to be a good, dedicated, and plagiaristic rival. Available in over 10 variants (the most significant variation being a different sauce), the Big N’ Tasty was sold in all continents when first introduced, but today is only still available in a few select Scandinavian countries.
7. Hula Burger
Because everything how-did-that-pineapple-get-in-here in a dish is Hawaiian, the Hula Burger’s etymology speaks for itself. But it was meant to be competition for the way more popular Filet-o-Fish, and the burger collapsed shortly upon its release. Created to draw in the Catholic crowd on Fridays who abstain from meat, the Hula burger was just pineapple and cheese in a bun. The burger, introduced in the 1960s, failed to attract even its target consumers, and gradually fizzled out of the McDonald’s menu. Its newer meatless counterparts, such as the Egg McMuffin, prove that the Hula burger was just a lack of an understanding of the customer’s tastes, and not necessarily a bad concept to begin with.
6. Radio Silence
Let’s face it, when you’re a giant corporation with a worldwide presence, you’re going to collect a lot of haters, especially local competition. Although fast food chains like Wendy’s trolling McDonald’s practically look like jealous younger brothers, the popcorn-demanding frolic is just too funny to ignore. Especially when McDonald’s chooses the radio-silence-way-out. In the past, Wendy’s has aired a number of insults at McDonald’s (Frozen food jokes? Check. Typos? Check. Broken Ice Cream machines? Check.), very much aware of the clichés that McDonald’s has unintentionally carved for itself in pop culture. Wendy’s even threw shade on the Golden Arches in a tweet by HBO about Sopranos, saying ‘nasty patties’ are only available under the big yellow sign). But while throwing dirt at other companies is incredibly easy with social media platforms as perfect battlegrounds, McDonald’s radio silence in response to these digs is rather… boring. Even its response to Burger King’s McWhopper invitation is just so utterly dull. When McDonald’s faces backlash (Such as the limited Mulan sauce that sold for a day and failed a majority of its customers) it frequently chooses the silent, or better, one-sentence way out.
With so many corporations throwing obvious shade at the company, does McDonald’s need a PR revamp, or is it simply the uncaring Godfather quietly chuckling into its knuckles?
Yes, I’d like lobster stuffed in a poorly toasted hot dog bun with lettuce, celery, mayonnaise, and lemon flavoring. Remember when you were hankering for a McLobster at 12 AM? Neither do we. Introduced as a novelty item during its Great Canadian Taste Adventure venture, the McLobster is a testament to just how far McDonald’s will go to ensure customer satisfaction. Or not. With dollops of mayonnaise that made the claw meat seem like sides, the dish was a failure. While lobster is considered the Great North’s most valuable seafood export, it’ll take McD much more than a hot-dog bun roll to envelop the wide palette of tastes the seafood provides (when done well). A seasonal item made of 100% Atlantic lobster, the roll also was plagued with supply issues and was not profitable overall. The dish is a perfect example of McDonald’s unrelenting attempts to ‘fit in’ to the cuisine of different nations. But much like the McSpicy Paneer of India or Bulgogi burger of South Korea, the McLobster falls Mcflat.
But that hasn’t stopped McDonald’s from serving Atlantic Canadians with the McLobster roll for a staggering 26 years since 1993. The item today adorns posters across the Great North throughout the summer, and even the more uninterested customers cannot help but feel a certain pull to the picture-perfect seeming delicacy (But misleading McDonald’s pictures are for another article altogether.) The McLobster is on the menu for as long as “supplies last”, so you might want to hurry if you want to give it a shot – or take your time. A long, long time.
4. Constant Media Flak
No one goes to McDonald’s for the health benefits. There is empirical data (that you can experience yourself if you’re persistent enough) that clearly shows that the long-term McDonald’s dining experience badly affects your cholesterol levels, liver, heart, and overall wellness. Documentaries that highlight these facts in painstaking detail have harangued the fast-food giant for decades (Super Size Me is a shining example), media outlets are constantly attacking the restaurant for its unhealthy food, poorly treated employees, and failed menu items, and other restaurants have no qualms about trolling the organization.
But it isn’t unasked for. With McNuggets that melt, salads with poop, fries with natural beef flavorings, extra-sugary ice-creams and parfaits, and salads fattier than burgers, its unending health failures invite scrutiny and the disdain of the health-conscious. But apart from its obviously unhealthy menu items, many of McDonald’s widely known publicity gaffes can be attributed to its scale. It is inevitable that a single mistake taints the entire corporation’s value in the international market.
But the flak isn’t always bad for McDonald’s. In fact, even though a majority of its coverage is regarding its health risks and occasional tactlessness, any publicity that an unbreakable corporation with annual revenue of $22.8 billion receives is good publicity.
3. Foreign Objects (McDonald’s Real Secret Menu)
Food scandals are a regular Tuesday for McDonald’s, but foreign objects are a rarer entity in its list of debacles. Bits of plastic, metal, and even a human tooth have adorned its menu in its 80-year tenure in the fast food business. Japan seems to have been the hardest hit by McDonald’s foreign objects menu, and the Senior Executive for McDonald’s in Japan, along the same vein of his Western contemporaries, dismissed them as an outsider’s job or as isolated cases that don’t reflect the quality of McDonald’s itself. But Japan’s stray cases are not a stray case. Evil super-geniuses with top-secret access to McDonald’s food production management have been stuffing food with nails, vinyl, metal, plastic, and human enamel for decades. A Big Mac in Melbourne was once infested with maggots. Plastic in Chicken McNuggets in Thailand and a spear in orange juice that went down an unsuspecting patron’s throat in New York are a few of the many lawsuits in inedible-object form that have troubled the fast-food chain and its patrons alike.
Ah, good old tone-deafness and bad timing. Released in 2002, this item on our list deserves a special status because it didn’t fail in taste (we’ll get to that later) as much as it did in theme. That’s right, released during a major famine in the African countries Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Lesotho and Swaziland, the McAfrika was either a tongue-in-cheek naming gag or just cringeworthy innocence. To top it off, the item was released only in Norway, one of the richest countries in the world. But the weirdness doesn’t end just there. The item was also used as a tradeable and limited edition Olympic Games Burger (Wait, what?) and was made available again during 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, only to be met, once again, with extreme criticism. The backlash in 2002 actually made McDonald’s set up donation boxes in select locations across the country.
Acknowledged by the spokesperson as a gaffe on the company’s part, the product was nonetheless sold until September 2002, as had been planned, and was sold in 2008 along with an ‘exotic African sauce’ this time. Needless to say, no one was impressed. Stranger than all, however, was McDonald’s claim that beef, cheese, and tomatoes wrapped in pita bread (a Middle-Eastern delicacy) was an authentic African recipe. While this item was just an all-out failure, the more important question is, is McDonald’s secretly controlled by a deluded anti-elitist conspirator excellent at irony, or is it just plain stupidity? We’ll let you decide.
1. Viral Disasters
The infamous pink slime, also affectionately called poultry paste, or mechanically separated meat, is a phenomenon on its own, a perfect combination of myth, social media inflation, and quite possibly the truth. But what is impossible to ignore is the fact that no matter McDonald’s stubborn refusal that its chicken nuggets first look like giant strawberry ice cream gel, chemical additives, and obviously unhealthy practices are recurrent themes in its behind-the-scenes recipes. If the number of ingredients in Chicken McNuggets is not a red flag (between 40 and 70), the fact that this pink slime is soaked in ammonia to kill its bacteria should be sufficient. The slime consists of all chicken body parts (eyes, guts, the whole shebang) that is mashed, pressed through a sieve, then artificially colored and flavored to look like the very palatable McNugget. Although McDonald’s dispelled the viral image by releasing a video that details how McNuggets are actually made, the damage had been done, and McDonald’s finally had to admit that it stopped using mechanically separated meat only in 2011. Another few viral examples are the ‘moldy burger’, for which the poor patron was offered 15 pounds in refunds, and unclean ice cream trays, floors, and bathrooms (best not displayed here) that each led McDonald’s into a spiraling PR disaster. But as always, McDonald’s emerges to be the resilient tardigrade of fast food restaurants.
But McDonald’s has its fair share in the progress and development market as well. With the introduction of environmentally-friendly uniforms, paper bags, hundreds of millions of charity donations, employment of 1.5 million people, and a global presence strong enough to sway widespread opinion with a click of its fingers, much like its parent nation, McDonald’s is a living and breathing concept more than it is a restaurant. In spite of its very public scrutiny and constant attacks by media outlets and health inspections alike, McDonald’s endures tide after tide of failures. This may be because it is entrenched deeply in the hearts of its billions of patrons, inseparable from the words ‘fast-food’, ‘burger’, and ‘nuggets’. While the occasional pink slime and bits of plastic may slip into its repertoire and taint our relationship, we are the ever-forgiving consumer when it comes to the Golden Arches. Public relation disasters can do little to hinder our love for the face value of its items, even the few that were scalding hot enough to cause third-degree burns ( The Hot Coffee lawsuit cost McDonald’s half a million bucks), or even pineapple-and-cheese in a bun as a meatless option. We forgive McDonald’s. Its arches are more than just a constantly changing logo, they are a symbol of resilience, love, and the always crispy McNuggets that never fail to be there you, 24 hours a day. The truth is, McDonald’s had us at ‘Hello, what can I get for you?’. We’ll never stop loving it.