Over the past few years, the folks at McDonald's have been about as organized as a circus crew—which is quite fitting, considering their mascot is a clown. But after years of plummeting stocks and failed turnaround efforts, the fast food power player finally has its act together: Their sales are back up, their culinary creativity is flourishing, and Mickey D fans are lovin' it! And with The Founder—a biopic that details the life of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc—coming to theaters on December 16, Micky D fans are abuzz with more excitement about the brand than ever before.
To help you get in the mood to learn the story of Kroc's fast food empire, we thought it would be fun to look back at how far the brand has come. In 2016 alone, there have been a ton of noteworthy happenings. Read on to discover some of the coolest, craziest, most delicious things the giant chain has cooked up so far this year! And while you've got Ronald's juicy burgers and crisp salads on the brain, be sure to check out our exclusive report Every Menu Item at McDonald's—Ranked. It's the only nutritional guide you'll ever need for the Golden Arches.
They Launched Chocolate Fries
Leave it to the Japanese to release one of the most interesting combinations of sweet and salty we've come across. These "chocolate fries" are exactly what they sound like they'd be: a bed of crispy fries topped with white chocolate and milk chocolate with "cacao flavor." Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your point of view—this new menu addition is only available in Japan. To achieve a similar flavor at your local Micky D's on your cheat day, order a small order of fries, and ask for a side of chocolate fudge. They have the stuff on hand to top their sundaes.
And Announced Their Plans for Rio
The return of golf as an Olympic sport wasn't the only new and exciting thing to hit the Rio games. Back in March, McDonald's announced their plans to set up a restaurant in the international zone of Brazil's Olympic village. In addition to American favorites like all-day breakfast and the McFlurry, they'll be dishing out Brazilian specialties like pao de queijo, a small baked cheese roll. Surprisingly, the athletes—who you'd assume would all be pillars of health—went crazy for the stuff. Badminton players, track stars and swimmers alike were routinely seen leaving the Olympic Village location with dozens of burgers, nuggets and sandwiches. It was so out of hand, in fact, that McDonald's was forced to impose an item limit.
Then Cut Their Famous Breakfast Platter
Ronald already hacked this oversized item from his UK menus earlier this year and fans fear he will do the same in the States. Considering the platter carries over 700 calories and 62 percent of the day's sodium, that wouldn't exactly be the worst thing in the world, though, now would it? We vote "no," and suggest you whip up some of these healthy breakfast ideas instead.
But Made Up For It By Serving Egg McMuffins as Side Dishes
Well, sort of. When McDonald's began serving up all-day breakfast, their intention was to give their customers the option of having brinner or a late breakfast (sleepyheads, rejoice!). But, apparently, people prefer having their breakfast with their lunch and dinner. Yes, we said with—like, as a side dish. "Believe it or not, some people order a lunch entrée and order an Egg McMuffin sandwich as an add-on," said Kevin Ozan, McDonald's chief financial officer, at a conference earlier this year. We ranked the Egg McMuffin as the #1 healthiest breakfast dish at the chain, so we're pumped so many customers are making a healthy choice—but if you're downing a Double Cheeseburger, an order of fries, and an Egg McMuffin in one sitting, it sort of defeats the purpose. And when it comes to fast food, it's always important to pick your battles—especially if losing belly fat is one of your health goals.
They Bottled Their Big Mac Sauce
Want the juicy goodness of your favorite Mickey D's burger right in the comfort of your own home? Well, now you can—if you live down under, at least. Earlier this year, McDonald's Australia began selling the chain's special Big Mac Sauce by the bottle. We're pretty big fans of eating local cuisine while traveling internationally, but it certainly is fun to have new options for old favorites that you can't get in the States!
They Embraced Kale—And Totally Dropped the Ball
Earlier this year, Ronald introduced a new kale- and spinach-based salad to his menu. At first glance, a kale salad seems like a road trip-bound dieter's saving grace. But upon closer inspection, it's clear that The Premium Southwest Salad with Buttermilk Chicken is bad news your waistline. Thanks to the addition of fried chicken, tortilla strips, cheese, and a caloric dressing, this dish packs 630 calories—nearly 50 percent of which come from unhealthy fats. Any salad with more calories and salt than a Big Mac is a "Not That!" in our book. So what should you order instead? Check out our report, What 8 Diet Experts Eat at McDonald's to find out!
They Began Testing a Chicken-and-Waffles Sandwich
Now that breakfast is being served 24/7, Mickey D franchise owners are taking advantage and shaking things up a bit. Their latest innovation? Chicken and waffles, a Southern favorite! Earlier this year, 11 McDonald's locations in Ohio began testing the menu item, which the chain has dubbed the Chicken McGriddle. It's made with a crispy fried chicken patty and two maple-syrup-infused pancake buns to give customers the flavors they'd find in the classic dish. No official word yet if this menu item is here to stay or if a nationwide roll-out is on the horizon. Love Southern fare? Chow down—without widening out—with the help of our exclusive report, 21 Flat-Belly Hacks for Southern Cooking!
They Launched an Improved Loyalty Program
If you already have the McDonald's app, you likely already know that after you buy five coffee drinks, you get a free McCafé beverage. However, company reps say that their loyalty program will be far more robust moving forward, according to McDonald's USA president Mike Andres. Recently, for example, they rolled out a deal where customers can score free nuggets with the purchase of a large Extra Value Meal. We expect to see deals continuously roll out through 2017.
They're Blending Up Greek Yogurt Smoothies
Thanks to Mickey D's, Greek yogurt has officially gone mainstream. Born from recent a partnership with Chobani, McDonald's is now testing a blueberry-strawberry yogurt parfait (150 calories) and two new smoothie flavors (each at 210 calories; one is packed with mangos and pineapple while the other is filled with strawberries and banana.) Currently, these protein-filled concoctions are only offered in California, but here's hoping these low-cal additions will become mainstays on the menu everywhere.
They Decided to Revive the McBarge
It's a little-known fact, but yes, floating McDonald's restaurants were once a thing—and they were pretty freakin' cool. Now, totally rundown, the Canadian-docked "McBarge," is no longer serving up grub. However, there are plans to give the ship a major overhaul, so getting seasick while dipping fries into a McFlurry may soon be possible. A fellow named Howard Meakin bought the floating vessel back in 1999, but just recently announced plans to get a complete refurbishment underway this year. However, there's no word yet on where the ship will dock. While you're waiting for an update, why not check out these 30 Things You Didn't Know About McDonald's.
They Launched a Maple Bacon Dijon Burger
It looks like Ronald is trying to be more cutting edge and hip by incorporating trendy ingredients like maple-seasoned bacon to his deluxe burger line. The dish has only been tested in San Diego, but the fast food chain is considering rolling out the fancy burgers nationwide. While this may make your taste buds tingle, "deluxe" is typically code for more calories—so, proceed with caution and check into the nutritionals (they may be available at your local restaurant) before you place your order. And speaking of caloric-restaurant dishes, be sure to steer clear of The #1 Worst Menu Option at 40 Popular Restaurants!
They're Experimenting with Bulleit Bourbon
If you're a whiskey lover who also happens to love crispy chicken, you're going to love what McDonald's is brewing up in their test kitchen. Ronald's Guacamole Pico Crispy Chicken Sandwich is topped with Bulleit bourbon-infused bacon and crushed cherries. No plans to serve this Tex-Mex sammy in restaurants as of yet, but it did make a splash in McDonald's VIP lounge at South by Southwest (SXSW).
They Re-Opened The "World's Largest Entertainment McDonald's"
Orlando, home of Universal Studios and Disney World, is also where the newly revamped "World's Largest Entertainment McDonald's" has its roots. After being closed for about a year, the 24-hour McDonald's is back in business complete with "create your own" burgers, chicken sandwiches, pizza, pasta, waffles, and omelets options. Mini Mickey D fans can also say "I'm lovin' it" to a 22-foot-tall kids' play area with slides and more than 50 arcade games.
They Said Goodbye To Happy Meal Toys
And speaking of tiny fast food fans, Ronald made every kid across America cry their eyes out when he announced his plan to remove the toys from Happy Meals. Though the toys were only replaced with books for a few brief weeks, it likely felt like an eternity for tiny tots used to getting an action figure along with their fries and nuggets. This is one initiative we haven't seen other chains try before, and one we'd love to see trickle down the fast food sector.
They Added Guac
If you lost your cool over the chocolate drizzled fries we mentioned earlier, you're really going to love this. Early in 2016, McDonald's launched guacamole fries! But there's some bad news: they're only available in Australia. Whomp, whomp! Thankfully, you can totally BYO guac to any Micky D's to make a similar DIY concoction right at your table. For more fun ways to eat more avocado, check out these 18 Tasty Ways to Satisfy Your Avocado Cravings!
They Healthified the Salad Blend
Last year, Micky D's ditched a major ingredient from its salads: iceberg lettuce, a green that Peggy Kotsopoulos, RHN says is "void of most—if not all—key vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, iron, calcium, and magnesium." To increase their salads' appeal to health-conscious consumers, they replaced it with a blend of romaine, baby spinach, and baby kale. And just this past June, the fast food chain upped their nutrition game further by adding red leaf lettuce and carrot curls to their signature veggie blend. "Color in produce is an expression of different nutrients," Jessica Foust, a McDonald's registered dietitian, explained in a statement. The next salad ingredient we think the chain should eschew? Crispy chicken. There's no faster way to ruin a wholesome salad. And speaking of things that will ruin your diet, read up on these 50 Little Things Making You Fatter and Fatter so you can steer clear!
They're Testing Garlic Fries
Other than Ronald himself, we'd say the two most notable McDonald's icons are the Big Mac and the self-proclaimed World Famous Fries. That said, we were surprised to hear that they were futzing with the recipe. In the San Francisco area, for example, customers will soon be able to purchase Gilroy Garlic Fries, made with garlic grown just 80 miles south of San Francisco and North American-grown potatoes. To round out the flavor profile, the spuds will also be donned with olive oil, parmesan cheese, parsley, and salt. (Is your mouth watering yet?) And over in Singapore, the chefs are also getting creative with a new savory fry creation. Their new Twist and Shake curly fries are—get this—dusted with crab flavoring. (Emphasis on the word flavored, meaning no real crabs were used in the creation of the dish.) Frankly, that doesn't sound too appetizing, and we're kinda glad these wacky fries are staying out of the U.S.
They're Tinkering with the Apple Pie
Listen up trivia fans, this is one McDonald's fun fact you'll want to remember: The apple pie was the first dessert added to McDonald's menu. The year was 1968, and it made its debut along with its much-adored friend, the Big Mac. Over the past 48 years, the recipe remained fairly unchanged—but that's all about to change. America's favorite fast food chain is testing out a new recipe for its apple pie in 950 restaurants in southern Cali and North Carolina, the unofficial pie capital of the world. Inside the flaky dough, the filling now includes five apple varieties rather than the previous six varieties. Diced apples will also fall by the wayside in favor of larger slices. The reason for the update? "Our culinary team wanted to provide customers with an old-fashioned apple pie with homemade taste and an aroma to match," McDonald's spokeswoman Becca Hary explained in a written statement.
They Discontinued the Big Mac—Sort Of
Before you panic, know this: the Big Mac sales have only been suspended in Venezuela. The reason: the eateries can no longer source the middle bun, a key component of the double-decker burger. Venezuela's falling oil prices have triggered an economic crisis, leading to shortages of food, household products, and imports—including fast food and restaurant ingredients.
They Began Testing Fresh Patties
They may tickle your taste buds and make your mouth water, but the burger meat at the Golden Arches are far from fresh. For years, the chain has exclusively used frozen beef to make their juicy patties—but that may change in the not-so-distant future. Currently, Mickey D's is testing fresh beef at 14 locations in Dallas for burgers made with quarter-pounder patties—a change that some critics say could increase the odds of foodborne contamination. The one thing that remains unchanged, however, is the mystery about what's inside the new patties. All Ronald and his crew of corporate clones will say is that the fresh patties are made with a "proprietary meat mix." While fresh is better than frozen, we'd take transparency with our beef over a fresh mystery meat patty any day. Keep on tinkering, Mickey D; you'll get there.
They Held a Create-Your-Taste Contest
Last year, we told you all about our experience at one of McDonald's very first "Create Your Taste" kiosks, i.e. burger machines that allow customers to make the ultimate personalized sandwich by mixing and matching over 30 ingredients. And over the past year, people have been getting into crafting their own creations—so much so, in fact, that restaurants in both Texas and New Zealand launched a build-your-own-burger competition. The McChefs abroad were a bit mischievous, to say the least. It all started out innocently, though: The Create Your Taste machines were set up at participating locations, and customers could craft their perfect burgers and submit them to a McDonald's public website where fans could peruse creations and vote on the best ones. There, things took a turn for the worst. Mischievous noshers created everything from politically-incorrect and profanely-named combinations to ridiculous requests like a burger made purely of buns (The Carbonator) and a giant stack of lettuce (Bag of Lettuce). Since then, McDonald's has reeled in the strings a bit, re-launching the customizable burger platform under the name "Signature Crafted Recipes." Instead of allowing customers to piece together anything they please, the new machines allow diners may customize their sandwich with topping "bundles," which include various condiments, produce, and cheeses.
They Debuted a "Texas" Burger
In Texas, however, the burger competition went a bit smoother. It even led to the creation of a limited-time burger called the Lone Star Stack, which was available for sale throughout the state back in September. Though the creation was a scrumptious one, it's since been discontinued. It sat on two slices of Texas toast and was packed with pickles, American cheese, white cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and a sweet onion flavored barbecue sauce. Joseph Pena, the creative Houstonian behind the combination, took home a whopping $5,000 and Texas-sized bragging rights for coming up with the chain's only bunless burger that's for sale in the U.S of A. Feeling inspired to think beyond the bun? Check out these 7 Smart Ways To Replace Your Burger Bun!
They Gave Their Website a Makeover
2009: The year that "Just Dance" by Lady Gaga and "Single Ladies" by Beyoncé were at the top of the charts. It was also when McDonald's last implemented a major redesign on their web page. Earlier in July, however, the site got a much-needed facelift. Updates to the site include a new, modern aesthetic, location-based menus, and easier navigation for mobile and desktop users. "This site was created out of what customers have been telling us they want to hear more about from the brand," says Caroline Masullo, McDonald's senior director of U.S. digital engagement. What Masullo failed to mention is that the entire site seems to have been redesigned to convince readers that their food is far more wholesome than it actually is. (All part of their master plan, we're sure.) There are prominently placed links to pages about nutrition, food sourcing, and their "food philosophy." The bottom line: No matter how healthy the menu may appear, you're better off not eating anything without reading the nutrition information first. Or better yet, check out our special report Every Menu Item at McDonald's—Ranked to uncover the healthiest picks.
They Gifted Kim Kardashian a Wallet—Filled With Gift Cards
She may have her own TV show and a rap star hubby, but Kim Kardashian West gets cravings for fried food just like a normal person. And when she's at Mickey D's, she always gets a small order of fries and either an order of chicken nuggets with a side of honey for dunking or an order nuggets and a cheeseburger (and only eats half of each). How she refrains from gobbling both of those dishes down in full, the world may never know. What we do know is that Ronald and his crew went wild when they learned Kim shared her Golden Arches obsession with the world. To thank her, McDonald's sent Kim a designer wallet filled with gift cards and a thank you note which read: "Dear Kim, we were so flattered to hear we made the list of your fast food favorites. Chicken McNuggets [with] honey is by far one of our best-kept secrets and a clear indication your good taste goes beyond fashion…This is a small token of our appreciation and to help you continue sharing the love…" Um. We write about Mickey D's all the time and we've yet to receive a fancy wallet! What gives, Ronald?!
They're Getting in on Pokémon Go Fever
Pokémon Go fever swept the globe this year—and we sort of loved it. There have been numerous reports of people who were more or less sedentary before the game's release who are now experiencing rapid weight loss, walking all over town to hatch their eggs and capture Pokémon. But we're not so sure Japanese players will have the same success. About 400 McDonald's Japan outlets have become battle arenas of the Pokémon world called "gyms," where players can duel other players' Pokémon on their smartphones. It's McDonald's hope that players will come in to earn some bragging rights and leave with a burger and a soda. If the idea catches on (and it probably will), all the nibbling may undo all the walking. For example, a 150-pound Pokémon player would have to walk for three hours and 45 minutes to burn off the 1,090 calories found in a Quarter Pounder with cheese, a medium Dr. Pepper, and a medium order or fries with ketchup. Hitting the "gym" may be fun but undoing the good from those steps in a mere matter of minutes is so not worth it.
They Learned How to Fly
Aside from the lumpy seats and less-than-generous leg room situation, the worst part about flying is most definitely the coffee. Even if it's fresh, most of it tastes like instant sludge. But thanks to McDonald's, this is all about to change—if you fly WestJet, at least. The Canadian airline announced their partnership with McCafé last week and soon after and began serving the chain's java on its flights from Toronto to Calgary. They plan to expand the service across its entire fleet, including its regional airline, WestJet Encore, by December 1. On the fence about keeping coffee as part of your daily diet? Don't miss our report 27 Things Health Experts Really Think About Coffee.
They Launched a McRib Finder
With 500 calories and 26 grams of gut-busting fat, the McRib is one of the worst sandwiches on the Golden Arches' menu. Thankfully for your waistline, it's only available for a limited time each year— and notoriously difficult to track down. That's why in years past fans have launched GPS apps devoted to helping people find a McRib near their location. But this year, something special happened, McDonald's launched an official McRib Finder to help hungry patrons find their favorite salty sandwich. (Our suggestion: don't indulge in more than one or two a year.) The brand says they plan to use what they learn from the McRib app to inform other digital product launches as well. Who knows, by this time next year, we may have a Shamrock Shake finding app! How cool would that be?
They Hired Waitresses
Over the past two years, table service has been tested numerous times at select Micky D locations. But just last month, Ronald and his crew announced that digital self-serve ordering stations and table service will be integrated into all 14,000 of their American restaurants. How will it work? After clients place their orders at the kiosk, a server will deliver their food to their table. Super simple! For customers who prefer to get their grub the old fashioned way, orders will still be accepted at the counter. Ever since they added more items to their menu, wait times for food has increased. The folks at McDonald's are hoping that their fry-loving fans will be more willing to wait the extra few minutes if they're doing so from the comfort of a table. Only time will tell if this strategy will be a win for them. While this new ordering system won't necessarily help you eat healthier at the fast food chain, these 35 Tips to Eat Healthy at Restaurants can help you do just that!
They Bought a Ton of Nutella
—because they're smothering their burger patties with the stuff! If you've ever wanted to mix your favorite breakfast condiment with your favorite fast food burger patty, you're in luck! McDonald's locations throughout Italy are serving a sandwich dubbed the "Sweety con Nutella," complete with Nutella spread between two hamburger buns. While there's been no official word if Nutella burgers will make their way across the pond, we're hoping they don't. A two tablespoon serving of the sugar-drenched hazelnut spread (what we imagine you'd find in this dish) has 200 empty calories and nearly an entire day's worth of the sweet stuff. Pair that with a fluffy bun and you've got a calorie-jammed dish your body doesn't need. And speaking of junk you should keep away from your lips, be sure to read up on these 30 Unhealthiest Drinks on the Planet so you can stay far away from each and every one!
They Tried to Make Cheese Curds Trendy
It may be a popular dish in certain areas of the world, but cheese curds (the solid parts of curdled milk) still make plenty of people turn up their nose. But McDonald's is banking on the fact that everything—even curdled milk—tastes better once it's taken a trip through the deep fryer. Made with locally sourced cheese from Wisconsin, the dish will be available throughout the state by the end of November. No word yet if the dish will become a nation-wide offering but you should try to hunt down the offering somewhere at some point—it's an American classic and one of these 50 American Foods You Much Try by 50.
They Nixed Nugget Preservatives
It's not exactly a newsflash that the fast food industry is under a lot of pressure to remove the chemicals from its food. But it did make national news this past August when The Golden Arches announced that its beloved McNuggets would soon be served san artificial preservatives. That means sodium phosphate, an ingredient whose high intake has been linked to higher rates of chronic kidney disease and weak bones, will no longer be lurking in your chicken. Same goes for TBHQ, a corrosion inhibitor used in biodiesel. This is definitely an exciting step in the right direction—and a move many other consumer food brands are making, as well. Get the inside scoop in our exclusive report, 12 "Bad" Foods That Are Now Good.
They Shrunk The Big Mac
Finally, McDonald's is rolling out a Big Mac we can get behind—a teeny tiny one. Yes, that's right; about three weeks ago, select McDonald's locations across the country began testing various sizes of Big Mac: mini, traditional, and "grand." You can expect to start seeing these new kids on the block come early 2017. In the meantime, we suggest sticking to a single patty burger with the fixings.
They Added Chicken to the Breakfast Menu
There's no denying it: America is obsessed with breakfast. Which is the very reason Ronald and Co. have started serving the meal around the clock and expanding the menu, too. And there's one potential additional breakfast fanatics are really pumped about: the Chicken McGriddle, a chicken breakfast sandwich that relies on maple-flavored pancakes as buns. The dish was tested in the Ohio area in February, but there's been no word yet if we can expect a nationwide rollout of the item.