Full disclosure: my first job was a twelve-year stint at McDonald’s, ten of those in management. My wife likewise did time there until she found the gumption to exit long before I did. We bear the company no ill will and we still eat there more frequently than the average ex-employee. That being said: large portions of our respective tenures were spent watching new products die.
Diners my age will remember the old TV jingle from the 1970s: “Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French fries! / Icy Coke, thick shakes, sundaes, and apple pies!” Forty years later, everything on that list remains an institution, safe from menu removal as long as the shake/sundae machine doesn’t break down. Except for the later introduction of the revolutionary Chicken McNugget, most other post-breakfast products have been subject to replacement or reboot without notice. Some haven’t been all that bad. While most were nationwide releases, some were local test-market trials. Some simply had quality control issues. Some were good for short-term sales boosts, then withered away when their newness wore off and customers returned to the comfort zone of the old reliables once again.
For all the mockery the Big Mac has endured over the years, someone’s been keeping those a steady seller since their creation. They have their fans, most of whom prefer to stick to the classics no matter what. The company has made numerous noble attempts to diversify their burger options; setting aside the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (basically a manly man’s QPC variant and therefore never technically a “new” creation) and the contents of the Dollar Menu (whatever those might be — I never order from the tiny-burger section), the new products kept coming and going one by one, never sticking around for long.
Some of the short-lived culinary creations that passed before my eyes included:
McDLT — Another Quarter Pounder with Cheese variant; add lettuce, tomato, and mayo, but packaged in a double-sized Styrofoam box that would, as the ads bragged, “keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool!” Initially it also had a bigger bun, but those were nixed not long before the sandwich itself was. The novelty of paying more for three extra toppings and twice the packaging didn’t last. It didn’t help that the hot/cold dichotomy only lasted until you slapped both halves of the sandwich together, at which point you had forty seconds before each side dragged the other down to a lukewarm stalemate.
McLean Deluxe — Imagine a Quarter Pounder with Cheese with slightly fewer fat grams, thanks to a few non-beef additives. If these ever sold in impressive numbers, it happened before my time. We were selling two or three per day for months on end by the time the plug was pulled.
Arch Deluxe — The company’s foray into more “adult” sandwiches, meant to lure in an ostensibly sophisticated audience, was another QPC variant with funny sauce topping, different onions, spicy cheese, and “bakery-style buns” that turned stale minutes after shipping. Strangely, this wasn’t what adults wanted from McDonald’s.
Cheddar Melt — This was a seasonal recurring sandwich, like the McRib (which is still a major draw here in Indy once every year or two), — again, a QPC, but with fried onions, addictive cheese sauce, and rye buns I couldn’t stand. I’m not sure when or why they stopped recurring, but I haven’t seen one in years.
Mushroom & Swiss — Once upon a time, there was a Burger of the Month program in which we sold a new sandwich every month. I’ve forgotten some of them, but this was among the best, years before an Angus version was attempted. They’re still a staple at our local Hardee’s chain, but they never caught on at the Golden Arches.
Double Big Mac — Simple formula for success: a Big Mac with four meat patties instead of two. Brilliant and deadly, but I think the higher price point was the culprit for their undoing.
Mac Junior — The exact opposite: one meat patty instead of two, and a standard bun instead of the three-section Mac bun. My best guess about its failure: people who prefer their burgers tiny also prefer them boring.
Double Filet-O-Fish — Another self-explanatory product, which I’m not sure ever amazed anyone except possibly Catholic weightlifters during Lent. The regular Filet-O-Fish could be sloppy enough with one fish patty slapped on that pile of tartar sauce; doubling the meat weight tripled the sauce-splatter range.
Mighty Wings — After America embraced the Chicken McNugget and the McChicken, a step toward the bone-in chicken market seemed a logical move. Oddly named as part of a cross-promotion with Batman Returns, these wings had to share the same cabinet drawers as their older siblings, but had a harder time maintaining the same quality levels. Also, I often wondered if perhaps the marketing and timing convinced too many customers that they were fried bat wings.
Steak sandwiches — I forget their exact name but this was another Burger of the Month veteran, with extra-large, slightly thicker, rectangular beef patties — not chopped like your normal Philly cheesesteak. I never understood why part of the procedures required dousing one side with extra pepper. Alas, the Cajun cooking fad of the 1990s never extended far into the fast-food realm.
Steak and Chicken Fajitas — UGH. I still recoil at the memory of how those marinating pans smelled. If you bundled and ate one fresh off the grill, they were passable. If the mix had marinated for more than a few minutes, they were death on a tortilla.
Soups — This test-market item disappeared by the end of my first season with the company. I gather I didn’t miss much.
For what it’s worth, the forthcoming new QPC options include the Quarter Pounder Deluxe (read: “plus lettuce and tomato”), the Bacon Cheese (everyone loves self-explanatory dishes), and the Bacon Habanero Ranch (spicy variant for the bold of heart, plus white cheddar cheese for some reason). The first two don’t sound like a daring stretch, but I’m willing to go out on a limb right now and predict that the BHR’s days are already numbered, even before launch.
Farewell, poor Angus burgers. We hardly noticed ye.