Is McDonald’s Broken Today?

By Lloyd Graff

Old McDonald’s is under siege these days. Demonstrators at the Oakbrook headquarters for $15 per hour minimum wage. Flagging sales. Franchisees are unhappy with the company. The stock is sinking. Burger King, of all competitors, is gaining share with fried chicken french fries advertised by talking roosters. The world doesn’t like McDonald’s at the moment so they fired the last CEO, who had just gotten his feet wet in the job.

Do they deserve a break today? I doubt it.

I visited a McDonald’s today to buy a biscuit and coffee, something I very rarely do, but I was in a biscuit mood, and I like theirs.

I decided to negotiate the drive-through, but I did not understand the signage because there was more than one ordering station, so I had to go around twice. I ordered my biscuit and coffee and was forced to make a decision on cream and sugar by the anonymous order taker. I got rattled by the question. Did I want one sugar, one cream? I didn’t know, because I wing it, so I said one of each by default.

Decisions. What a way to start my day.

Then I drove to the pay window. Why not pay when I received my food? What if I wanted to order another biscuit?

More overhead, less efficiency for McDonald’s, which was empty at 8:15am.

Then I rolled to the window to collect my food. A surly young woman passed me my coffee and addressed a question (I think) to me. Unfortunately, I found her one word question incomprehensible. This was embarrassing. I looked inquisitively at her and she repeated her word again, and I still could not understand what she said.

“What did you say?” I asked. “Jelly?” she said. I thought to myself, why did she make this an uncomfortable moment?

She was a young African American woman who spoke with an inflection that was difficult for an older white guy with mediocre hearing to understand.

Yet “jelly” should not have come between us if McDonalds or a local manager had coached her on how to address me in a way I could more easily understand her.

“Sir, would you like strawberry jelly with your biscuit?” she could have asked. And I would probably not be writing this column.

McDonalds, please train your people. Teach them to smile. Instruct them how to address a customer, politely, rather than building in contention.

I took my bag with my biscuit and found that there was no butter, but two packets of jelly – one grape, one strawberry — I didn’t even want, and coffee with the wrong amount of cream and sugar for my taste. One little encounter, yet they messed up my experience, even though the biscuit was quite tasty.

We all have several encounters every day with coworkers, customers, suppliers, family, and friends. We probably screw many of them up because we do not see or hear ourselves the way others do. For McDonald’s, which has a million encounters each day, training is crucial. The “jelly” woman had no idea she was annoying me today, but a well trained manager, monitoring her counter people could easily correct the problem.

Steve Easterbrook, the new CEO at Oakbrook headquarters, probably has no idea that the “jelly” woman just irritated a client. He does know that “jelly women” are demonstrating in front of his office for $15 per hour and his 29,544 franchises are angry because the company stores just announced a $1 hour raise above the national minimum wage. Nobody’s happy with McDonalds these days.

Question 1: Do you go to McDonald’s?

Question 2: Is McDonald’s broken today?

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43 thoughts on “Is McDonald’s Broken Today?

  1. KC

    Yes, and these are the same clueless, incompetent, unskilled idiots that demonstrate for a higher wage. And why would anyone pay more than the bare minimum for their services when they have barely mastered the basics in customer service?

    Sad state of affairs indeed.

    1. Frank

      Occasionally I go to McDonalds — Hate having them sweeten or cream my coffee ( it is usually un-drinkable). The food is O K, but the service is often sullen and often not understandable dialog.
      Try going to Chick Fillet instead – WOW, those people have it all together w/bright exquisitely trained & neat sales/serve staff. No question that I would pay more for the kind of service & products they offer – even fresh flowers on the tables.
      Most of the other fast food places are about like McDonalds. O K but not a great experience like “Chick F” which also puts out trash cans at the drive thru, so we don’t throw our wrappers & cups out the window.
      Oh Yes ! Many of the people I encounter in the fast food industry are worth $ 15.00 per hour, so why not have a published sliding scale and reward the best of them. Maybe that would give some incentive to be better.

  2. Ben

    Question 1:
    No, I do not go to McDonalds more than once a year. If I want fast food I go to subway. The food is healthier.
    Question 2:
    It is not just McDonalds that is broken. It is the whole world. The .com kids never learned how to communicate with each other and there goal is to lean out the English language to it is quicker and easier to type. That is why she worded her question the way she did.

    Don’t get me started on going to the bank and having to push #2 for English. ….
    Why is this not the default language ?
    I live in a town in the country where animals are my neibors. There are less people in my town that don’t speak English than I can count on all my fingers and toes. Why do I have to choose #2 for English ???

  3. C.W.

    I used to stop at McD’s every morning for breakfast, I sat in the long line awaiting to get my bagel, bacon, and cheese sandwich. Knowing this was unhealthy and not a way to start my day and did it anyway for a couple years. The service was always hit or miss depending if they had certain ladies working it would be smooth, other times it was a cluster. Sometimes the food was good and other times it was absolutely disgusting, burnt and tasted horrible. I finally woke up and made my meals myself and have been better off for it, and carrying less weight around. Wanting $15/hr. and not trying to upgrade yourself or your job is wrong and McD’s shot themselves by never caring about the service they provide only the price.

  4. Jeff

    Jonathon Brandmeier had a guy on that only ate Big Mac’s.
    He said at his wedding he had some Lasagna but that was years ago.

  5. Jack

    1. Occasionally. Recently did a taste test between them (1/4#er), Culvers (1/4# Butter Burger) and Burger King (Whopper).
    I was surprised Burger King won.
    I did lose 10lbs since I cut way down on fast food.

    2. Seems like just about everything is broken these days. Maybe it’s just me getting old.

  6. Dave Schell

    Q1 Yes
    Q2 No, (It depends).

    Being in the area I reside there are McDonalds (and Burger King, Jack In the Box, Taco Bell etc) everywhere. Some of the McD’s I have gone to suck. Some do not. I spend my money at the ones that don’t. Once a week or so I hit them for lunch. as do many others I work with. I really think it comes down to what I call the Walmart syndrome. They are an easy target. Do I buy from Walmart? Depends. Do they have what I want when I want it? Somethings, sometimes. Ex. I love their Wrangler cam shorts so I buy them at Walmart for 10 bucks. I buy at higher end stores also if they have what I want. Macy’s for their Tommy Bahama silk Hawaiian shirts for a 100 bucks, (goes great with the camo shorts BTW, chic redneck I like to call it.). A lot of bad press for Walmart in the last few years and they are still in business so why would McDonalds be any different?. Anyway the bottom line IMHO is, choices are choices, and McD’s is another choice which still thrives in many areas. Ex. My wife and I took a road trip down to SoCal from NorCal. In One 100 mile stretch of two lane highway she counted 21 McD’s at almost every exit along that stretch. Not what I would call dead

  7. Tony Seidelman

    I agree that the McDonalds you dealt with was not what should be expected. You actually pointed out a important point that the owner of that McDonald should pay attention to. At 8:15 in the morning here locally we have a McDonalds that was built in the last 4 years. they have a completely different problem. No room to expand and really could use the second lane for ordering (shame on you for some one that made a lot $ having more than one thing going on at once) the big difference is it is packed because the have very polite and well trained people who hustle and it is like that all day long. Management was responsible for what happened to you.

  8. Hank

    Most of the stores I visit are very well run and quite efficient. It seems to be all about the individual store manager. I am actually amazed that anyone, even with great management systems and persons in place, can deliver a quality product utilizing minimum wage employees in todays culture. Add this to the fact that a business built on low priced food of questionable nutritional value is facing a more demanding culture as regards to a healthy diet, and it is easy to see why their business model is struggling.

    It is very difficult and frightening to turn your back on a 50 year old super successful business model, but the world is changing and some kind of major adaptation will be needed to continue the success longer term.

  9. Scott @ GenSwiss

    The only reason I set foot in a McD’s is to use the bathroom while out making sales calls. I haven’t eaten anything from them since 1999. To me, the golden arches indicates bladder relief so I hope they don’t close too many stores, I need them for the sake of road warrior restroom convenience.

    If I am going to go to a fast food place, I go to Chick-Fil-A. I know people slam them for their conservative and religious leanings but they train their people to serve everyone with a ‘southern hospitality’ type of friendliness. I highly doubt you’ll get the “Jelly?” question from an employee at one of their stores. All questions asked of the clientele are formed in complete sentences. The food they serve is miles ahead of anything you’ll from the House of Kroc too.

    I think McDonald’s main roadblock these days is a cultural shift and unless they can realign themselves they’ll find their business spiraling downward for years to come.

  10. Brian

    Never been in a MacDonalds in all my 68 years and never will in England they were feeding the remains of old dead cows with BSE to people who may have developed the human form. Crautzfeld Jacob disease. Not spelt right but near enough.

  11. John

    Question 1. I rarely use McDonald’s, once every three years. If I go to McDonald’s, the motivation is free wifi, not the food although I will buy a coffee.

    Question 2. If all you want is a burger, fries and a shake and have no other criteria then McDonald’s is okay. If you want more, competent service and quality, especially food quality then McDonald’s is irrelevant.

  12. Jack

    I try to avoid fast food other then the occasional Subway sandwhich. I “treat” myself to a Big Mac once or maybe twice a year. It isn’t just McDonalds that is broken. I think our society is broken. When shoping any type of retail store, I would like to hear a ‘thank you’ for spending my hard earned dollars. Cashiers rarely make eye contact, would obviously rather be somewhere else, and rarely, if ever, say thank you. They usually toss me the change and say “here ya go”. It probably starts with the parents who don’t teach them any values. Store managers don’t seem to provide customer service training either. They put a warm body at the register and hope for the best. If I treated my customers like that, I wouldn’t have any. I was always taught that the customer is king. Not everyone understands this concept. Happy customer come back. It’s pretty simple.

  13. Kim

    No, I don’t eat at McDonald’s. Growing up the only time my family ate fast food was on a car trip because it was the only place to eat in the middle of nowhere. For whatever reason McDonald’s was never the place we stopped, and as an adult I haven’t felt the desire to go there. I still pretty much only ever have fast food on long car trips. I prefer to save money and eat healthier by eating breakfast at home, packing my lunch for work and making my own dinners. If I’m going to splurge on eating out, I’m either going for something quality, or at least something decent that is convenient.

    Since I don’t eat at McDonald’s I can’t comment on their service or food quality. It does seem that despite our resistance as a nation to eat better, there are some competitive food options out there that are winning over customers. Even the roadside restaurants in the middle of nowhere have more options now so it’s not hard to find something else.

  14. Pete

    Q1: rarely, see Q2
    Q2: Yes. For the most part I have had the same experience with their help and quality. They were my morning coffee and/or breakfast in a pinch, but I have stopped going. Whatever strange and unique stain that appeared on the inside of my coffee cup, at least twice, completely turned me off. It hurts to, because I really like their coffee and cheap breakfast. Dunkin’ is my new “in a pinch” place for breakfast, even though it is a bit out of the way. I can’t say the service there is anymore friendly, but I haven’t been disgusted by their cups yet.
    I couldn’t agree more about training employees the value of a smile and reading your customer. The young kid in the rusty car doesn’t care, but the adult, in the Chrysler 300 does.
    I won’t put this all on McDonald’s either. A generation of kids is growing up with parents who do not teach respect. I am only 36 years old, but can’t imagine saying or doing the things kids do to their parents today.


    Lloyd, you’ve lived in a world of tenths, Mcdonalds lives in a world of yards or more. did Noah write this?

    1. Emily Halgrimson Post author

      It was written by Lloyd. We’d never use Lloyd’s name if it wasn’t written by him 🙂

  16. Gary

    I go to McDonalds about once a week but only normally eat a featured sandwich as their normal menu is less than palatable. I always ask for fresh fries as their fries cold are inedible, this seems to annoy the counter person who is over paid at minimum. In our area pickings are slim with a Nebraska favorite called Runza, my choice most of the time because everything is made fresh. Now if I want a real burger treat when I’m in LA I always go to In And Out Burger. Friendly, polite, fresh and fast!

  17. Greg

    Q1 Sometimes, I decided to try MCD’s for about 6 days breaking from my morning habit at
    Dunkin’ Donuts which as been mostly flawless for years, which brings me to Q2, Yes they are broken, In 6 daily orders 2 were wrong. I have had issues with this unit before and have to agree with Lloyd on contention at the window, been there only worse. At most / all MCD’s I get food that is luke warm like its not fully cooked which to me is a turn off. They need a top to bottom overhaul in my opinion.

  18. Brandt Rodgers

    I occasionally eat at Mcdonalds, but I am quite clearly insane. I keep going back thinking that this time they will be more efficient or accurate. I am usually always disappointed. Many of the people who work at our local McDonalds are younger, and just starting their working careers. Unfortunatley they are doing nothing more than picking up bad habits when it comes to customer service and quality that they will just carry on to their next job. There is a sense of pride in ones work that is quite clearly missing from many people. I just seem to always be able to find these people working at McDonalds, and it frustrates me to think that I need to pay more for such shoddy service due to a sense of entitlement to higher wages. If you want to be paid more, work for it and be the best, no excuses.

  19. Joe

    The service comes down to the franchise owners, and what they expect/demand from their managers. McDonalds’ problem is that their food sucks. Even their breakfast foods have fallen behind. If you’re in the mood for a fast food breakfast, go to Carls Jr or Taco Bell.

    Like so many other poorly thought out “gimme more money” political maneuvers – the push for $15/hr will only hurt the people it’s supposed to “help.”

    Let’s say Kim is getting $12/hr because she’s a good worker, while Kelly is getting minimum wage because she’s an empty pair of shoes, but at least she’s somewhat capable of cleaning the frier. When mandatory $15/hr comes along – Kelly isn’t going to get $15/hr. She’s going to get fired. And Kelly isn’t going to give you better service because she’s getting $15/hr. She’s going to give you worse service, because she’s now doing Kim’s job as well.

    The whole point is moot anyways. Just do 5 minutes of research on *who* makes minimum wage. Basically nobody except kids who live with their middle class parents.

    Go to any business that actually does anything other than food service, retail, or lawn care – and ask them what kind of employees they get if they try to pay minimum wage.

  20. George Newman

    I think everyone is missing the point. At $7.25/hour or even $9.00 per hour McDonalds is hiring functionally illiterate people with the customer service related consequences (to say nothing about productivity). If they raise their pay to $15.00/hour they will be hiring employees in a completely different social class. The people working there now will not be the ones to receive the $15.00/hour. New employees will.

  21. Lance

    1) I abandoned McDonald’s in the ’80’s when they caved into the tree-huggers and banned EPS food containers after putting in a corporate-wide, multi-million dollar recycling project. They single-handedly nearly killed an entire industry on their whim. I have never forgiven them for that politically-correct stunt which nearly forced us out of business and, to some extent, has never fully recovered.

    2) When you try to dumb-down an entire industry to the point that the workforce can literally be anybody you will eventually fail. It can’t be done.

  22. Bob

    #1; not so much, a couple times a year. Bathrooms are nice though, usually clean.
    #2: Broken, or desperate? It would appear that the readers of this blog are primarily in the manufacturing industry, where intelligence is a must have. Working in McDonald’s? Hmm not so much. I, and many of my fellow boomers, had always thought of fast food places as an entry into the working world, not a career. So why would a corporation cave in to these people?
    A living wage, working at a fast food place?? C’mon, where is your ambition?? Because these people did not, or would not apply themselves, the business world owes them a living wage? The guys I work almost make twice that amount, but they run state of the art 5 axis mills that they program themselves on parts that the material alone costs over $10,000, a lot of math and machining experience is needed in our industry so they are worth their wage. But somebody that takes an order for a burger wants $15 an hour?
    McDonalds is running scared, and will lose even more market share because if indeed they raise the wages of their employees to these levels, where is this money going to come from? Have the people that run that corporation not figured out what will happen? Perhaps those are the people that are being paid too much for what they are worth.

  23. Mike

    Tax payers do not subsidize machinists, because it requires skilled labor that pays a livable wage. If we as a country believe only skilled workers deserve a livable wage, the welfare state will only become more and more dependent on government. Anyone who works at least 40 hours a week regardless of what they do, deserve enough money to live on. Unfortunately minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, thus making the problem worse today than it’s ever been. $15 is hardly an unreasonable request.

    1. Joe

      “$15 is hardly an unreasonable request.”

      Yes, actually it is. The largest overhead in food service is already labor. Doubling the the largest existing expense is an unreasonable request.

  24. Robert

    Not to worry McDonalds. Robots and vending machines will never request a raise, health care benefits, days off, a retirement plan or picket and go on strike, unless they are programmed to.

  25. ed kays

    I have eaten in McDonald’s all over the world. The one thing they have in most all of their stores is consistency. Whether you like it or you don’t it is the same whether you buy it on the Avenue of Champions in Paris, in Geneva Switzerland, or Marshall, Missouri. The McDonald’s in our town of 13,000 people is open 24 hours a day and has a line to get served about 12-14 hours of that 24 they are open. You can blame poor management for your experience. As far as the people being entitled to $15.00 per hour most have little or no skills. I don’t believe offering $15.00 per hour will get you a different work force as those people earning that kind of wage already have a job and would not quit it to work at McDonald’s.

  26. Emily Halgrimson Post author

    Even though $15/hour is a huge jump, and is unreasonable to expect all at once, there should be yearly increases to the minimum wage to allow it to rise as the cost of living does. I’m almost 34 , and 20 years ago at age 14 I was making $9/hour working hard in retail (minimum wage in IL was about $5 in 1995), gas was $.98 a gallon, and a McDonald’s hamburger was $.69. Today minimum wage in IL is $7.25, and I don’t need to tell you the price of the other stuff. Isn’t hard to see that the math stinks. I semi agree with the comments that people who want to make a living wage need to look beyond their high school part-time job and make the leap to something more skilled, but the reality is that we have many single mothers trying to pay their rent by working at McDonald’s, and even if we can’t empathize with it, it’s the reality, and we as fellow Americans need to step up and address it. There are too many “ought to’s” and “if it were me’s” preached. Sometimes we need to keep our mouth shut about how great the world would be if everyone was like us, and just do the kind thing. I believe in my heart that everyone does the best they know how to do, it’s impossible to do anything else. Lol, ironic though, now I’m getting all preachy to you guys 🙂

    1. Jack

      You’re young, you will learn, I hope.
      Not everyone does the best they know how to.
      The ones that created this mess should also step up and address it.
      And not by just throwing more money at it.

  27. d

    I go to McD’s about 2 times per year, mostly to remember
    how bad a “big” mac is, and to see if it has shrunk anymore than last time. Then I remember how bad they are and I’m set for about 6-7 months. (They are way smaller than when I was a kid!) Being that I like to mess with them, I ask the counter person for a “Mini Mac” which causes total confusion, and usually a glance at the menu board, and a …what?? I say in a louder tone “MINI MAC, used to be a Big Mac….when is it going to become a Micro Mac?? What are they like $9 now”?
    Usually makes them hurry and fill my order to get the ‘weird guy’ away from the counter. lol. They seem to make sure it’s -right- too, don’t want me coming back with a problem!

    I could definitely have some fun with Jelly Woman!
    It’s fun, it’s free….laugh at the world. You’ll live longer.

  28. Dave Bradley

    I worked for McD’s when I was 14. The manager I worked for was in my class, his big brother was the store honcho. My boss didn’t like me because I dated his girlfriend (who later became his wife) before he did. Got fired on my first day because one of the milkshakes I made weighed an oz. too much. That was 50 years ago and I believe John is still with McD’s. I went on to be a toolmaker apprentice. All my friends during high school called Mcd’s “GUTBOMBS”, as we seemed to at one time or another get sick from something we ate from there. There is nothing more frustrating than being in a hurry and going thru the drive up, paying for your food, and it not being ready for a half hour after you were told to park on the side of the parking lot and they would bring it out to you. Left work at 5:00 to go 10 miles to school for class at 6:00, stopping at McD’s should not have been a problem. And they don’t want to give your money back and you can’t wait the 1/2 hour. They deserve to go out of business. I guess the money they ripped me off for goes into John H’s retirement. I don’t eat there unless I’m out of options. I don’t care it John has to work there
    until he is 97.

  29. Bruskie

    I have two McDonalds within range to choose from by where I work. One is never efficient. Seems like MOST times I’m asked to park and wait along side the rest of the drive through customers while the fetch my burger and fries. I always think, WHY? The food is regularly bad but the folks there are polite and understandable, I’ve went online and complained often. The other is much better, never an issue, which goes along with Lloyds idea of training. However I don’t eat at the MiccyD’s any longer due to the low quality of personnel I too often find there and the low quality of food. We have a LOCAL fast food chain called BeefARoo that pays better wages, therefor gets far better people and the food is far better quality, a bit more expensive but that’s where I go when I need a fast food fix! (No breakfast though). Proud to say I haven’t been to a McDonalds for months and don’t plan to go.

  30. Jack Mendenhall

    McDonalds sucks
    Everything they make now is microwaved
    None of the people who work there speak English
    The bathrooms don’t have paper towels, just those blast-dryers that practically blow
    The skin off your hands
    I’d rather eat a fake hamburger from a gas station with the charcoal lines painted on then eat the plastic crap microwaved at McDonalds
    It was good in the 60s And 70s when I was a kid
    Now McDonalds just plain sucks

  31. Jack Mendenhall

    One other thought about crappy McDonalds:
    Last year I was in Rosemount Il at a hotel
    I went to the McDonalds across the street from the hotel to get a Shitty hamburger ( I was hungry and drunk and didn’t want to pay $15 at the hotel for a burger and was too drunk to drive)
    The guy in line ahead of me was a cop and ordered a “prisoner meal”
    Apparently the Rosemount Illinois jail is across from the McDonalds and they contract with the shitty McDonalds to feed the inmates there
    So I axed the guy, I said “does the Prisoner meal come with a toy like the happy meal? Like maybe a figurine of the Hamburgler?”
    He thought that was funny as hell
    Great justice feeding lawbreakers the crappy food from McDonalds
    Bad bad food – McDonalds sucks


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