20 Biggest McDonald's Menu Fails of All Time
McDonald's may have mastered the art of the French fry and the juiciness of a stacked burger, but nobody's perfect. In its decades-long history, the fast-food giant has gone through hundreds of menu items. Some have been massive successes (BigMac, anyone?), while others were so awful, they've long been forgotten and are now in the land of failed McDonald's menu items.
For example, did you know that McDonald's has sold an array of seafood options, far beyond the Filet-O-Fish? And do you remember McDonald's own Hot Pocket-like product from the early 1990s? Well, it's time to take a look back at all of the failed McDonald's menu items that now only live in our memories, hearts, and in fast-food heaven. And once you're done looking back at these ghosts of Mickey D's past, check out 8 Fast-Food Chains That Use Pure Ground Beef for Their Burgers.
There was nothing wrong with the actual Arch Deluxe burger that McDonald's debuted in 1996. It had bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions, ketchup, and a secret sauce.
The problem was the advertising, which McDonald's famously spent over $200 million on. The company marketed the Arch Deluxe as a sandwich for only adults, calling it "the burger with the grown-up taste." The company even launched a commercial featuring two young rappers saying "yuck" when they saw the Arch Deluxe. Wrong move, Mickey D's!
The Arch Deluxe didn't find its fans and was yanked from McDonald's menu in 2000 (though it made a brief return in 2018). But at least it brought us this commercial featuring a young Jessica Biel.
Before McDonald's settled into offering both indulgent and healthy options on the menu, it tried the McLean Deluxe during the fad diet craze of the early 1990s. The sandwich, which launched in 1991, was purported to be lighter than a Big Mac. McDonald's used seaweed extract as a binder to create the 91 percent fat-free burger.
But, "to the regular audience at McDonald's, the McLean Burger just didn't taste close enough to a Big Mac," a food consultant told The New York Times in 1995. As a result, the McLean was dubbed the McFlopper, according to The Times.
Pizza may be cheesy and delicious, but there is one thing it is not: fast. In 1989, McDonald's started slowly introducing pizza to its menu to attract more dinnertime customers. According to a McDonald's ad at the time, it was only available after 4 p.m.
But Mickey D's pizza was doomed to fail. Because it was made to order, the slow-cooking pies didn't work for a restaurant that prides itself on speedy service. "I ordered it at the drive-thru window and then parked my car. About 10 minutes later, it was brought to my car," one customer wrote on his blog. "Dunkin' Donuts is able to produce their version of a Pizza Hut personal pizza in less than two minutes." But apparently Dunkin' pizza didn't catch on either…
The dish was eventually removed from McDonald's menus. The chain recently celebrated the old-school menu item in an exclusive look at the memorabilia in one of it's office.
In the early 1960s, McDonald's founder Ray Kroc wanted to introduce a meat-free sandwich option for Catholics during Lent. In 1962, Kroc came up with the Hula Burger, which was a pineapple slice and two pieces of cheese on a toasted bun. Luckily, Cincinnati McDonald's franchise owner Lou Groen had come up with the Filet-O-Fish instead. He brought the idea to Kroc, who challenged Groen to a friendly competition.
"Ray said to me, 'Well, Lou, I'm going to put your fish sandwich on (a menu) for a Friday. But I'm going to put my special sandwich on, too. Whichever sells the most, that's the one we'll go with," Groen said in a 2007 interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer. "Friday came and the word came out. I won hands down. I sold 350 fish sandwiches that day. Ray never did tell me how his sandwich did." (According to Smithsonian magazine, only six Hula Burgers sold.) After that, it was time to say "aloha" to Kroc's invention.
If you lived in the Midwest in the mid-1990s, you might have tried out a McHotDog. The product was tested in 1995 during the summer, but it never caught on. McDonald's has tried to introduce hot dogs a few more times since then, to little success and against Kroc's wishes.
"There's [a] good reason we should never have hot dogs," Kroc wrote in his 1977 autobiography, Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's. "There's no telling what's inside a hot dog's skin, and our standard of quality just wouldn't permit that kind of item."
McDonald's tried to capitalize on the popularity of crabcakes in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia by trying out a McCrab sandwich in the summer of 2003.
"Can the Golden Arches, symbol of ubiquity and sameness in American fast-food culture, find success by offering a beloved native dish on its menu? Will customers craving a quarter-pounder with cheese opt for a 3.5-ounce crab cake sandwich instead?" Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Rodricks wondered.
The answer was no. The McCrab couldn't come close to competing with the local fare, and it didn't last long.
If you thought McDonald's pizza was bad, you probably don't remember that McDonald's actually tried serving pasta at one point, too. In the late 1970s, McDonald's introduced McSpaghetti to little fanfare. Customers weren't interested in the Italian menu item, and it ended up being removed shortly after its debut.
And for more ill-fated ideas, don't miss these 17 Failed Chain Restaurants From the 1980s That Will Make You Feel So Nostalgic.
Onion Nuggets were exactly what they sound like: fried onions that provided an alternative to French fries as a McDonald's side dish. Think of them like the inside of an onion ring. They were introduced in the late 1970s and were removed from the menu by the end of the decade, never to be seen or heard from again.
"Not many people have seen them, even within the company," Mike Bullington, senior archives manager for McDonald's, told The Wall Street Journal in 2012.
Shortly after their demise, McDonald's introduced Chicken McNuggets in 1980, and the world has never been the same since.
When it launched in 2006, McDonald's Angus Burger made history: It was the first burger made using beef from Angus cattle sold at a major fast-food chain. However, the high-quality burger came at a price—nearly $4, actually. In 2013, less than a decade after its debut, the Angus Burger just couldn't keep up.
"When you can get four or five burgers off the Dollar Menu, nobody's going to buy the Angus burger," Richard Adams, who consults with McDonald's franchisees, told the Associated Press in 2013.
In 1984, McDonald's tried a new way of packaging its burgers that gave customers the option to assemble the beloved sandwich themselves. For the McDLT, McDonald's put the meat and bottom bun on one side of a Styrofoam container and the top bun and toppings on the other. (The name was supposed to be McD + L for lettuce and T for tomatoes.) Even Seinfeld star Jason Alexander hawked the McDLT, singing "hot beefy McD … cool, crispy LT" in an '80s commercial.
But in the early 1990s, people started to learn about the harmful effects of Styrofoam on the environment. After getting so many complaints, McDonald's discontinued the McDLT.
And for more fast-food failures, don't miss these 25 Fast-Food Restaurants You'll Never Eat in Again.
Yes, it's true: McDonald's tried out a lobster roll in 1992, according to the New Yorker. The sandwich was reminiscent of the traditional lobster rolls you can find on the coast of New England.
But lobster doesn't come cheap. Considering the item's higher price point for the time—$3.99, according to a commercial—it wasn't very popular among most of the McDonald's markets.
The restaurant chain did away with the McLobster soon after it launched, but tried to bring it back in certain New England markets, including as recently as 2015. Still, lobster's biggest fans aren't buying it. "If I want a lobster roll, I could think of a dozen places between here and the nearest McDonald's where I'd get it," one Maine-based marine biologist told the New Yorker.
But it's all good for Mickey D's. "Even these failures are tremendous successes," food historian Andrew Smith told Christian Science Monitor. "Something like the McLobster gets huge news, and social media goes crazy, and when they take it off the menu they get even more publicity."
The McAfrika was one of McDonald's biggest fails of all time. But not because of the contents of the sandwich itself (a burger patty, cheese, and vegetables on a pita).
The McAfrika was released in Norway and Denmark in August 2002, during one of Africa's most intense famines. As a result, the product did not go over well with the public. "We have nothing against McDonald's but the timing of this is insensitive," Gunstein Instesjord, a senior policy advisor at Norwegian Church Aid, told The Guardian. "McDonald's must see that the launch has not been successful."
The company tried to apologize, offering to set up donation boxes in McDonald's that sold the McAfrika to help those starving in Africa. However, the corporation still let the sandwich run its intended course.
For some odd reason, though, McDonald's brought the sandwich back in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics, along with the McEurope, McAmerica, McAsia, and the McAustralia. But the McAfrica (with an "exotic African sauce" and spelled with a "c" this time) was blasted yet again.
Another healthy McDonald's option that's no longer? McSalad Shakers. The cups of salad that you shook up to distribute dressing evenly hit menus in 2000. It was McDonald's way of capitalizing on the trend of bringing your salad with you on the go. "Who's shaking up everything you know about salads?" a McDonald's commercial asked.
Unfortunately, the Slurpee-looking salad cups weren't particularly appealing to McDonald's customers. In 2003, the McSalad Shakers were switched out for McDonald's Premium Salads served in traditional bowls, which are far more appetizing. Unfortunately, this healthy menu item was taken off the menu during the pandemic and has not returned.
Ah, the Mighty Wings. They've had a rough road at McDonald's. According to TheStreet, "The product originally launched in 1990, but had been taken off the menu in 2003." Then, in September 2013, they were supposed to make a triumphant return.
In fact, executives were so sure they had a success on their hands that McDonald's stocked up on 50 million pounds of the product from the outset. But the wings turned out to be less than mighty. They didn't sell well, forcing McDonald's to pull them from the menu and to get rid of 10 million pounds of leftover wings in December 2013.
The problem was both the pricing and the spicing. "One dollar per wing was still not considered to be the most competitive in the current environment," McDonald's CEO Don Thompson said at the time. "The other thing we saw, and it's a very slight modification, the flavor profile is slightly spicy for some consumers." In 2016, the wings had a small renaissance in McDonald's all over Atlanta. Perhaps the company still had some leftover chicken.
If you know any preschoolers, you've probably heard of the Disney Junior show Doc McStuffins. But chances are you didn't know the adorable TV character shares her name with a 1990s failed McDonald's menu item.
When Hot Pockets took over the grab-and-go food market in the 1980s, McDonald's tried to follow suit, launching McStuffins in 1993. The stuffed small French baguettes came in four flavors, including chicken teriyaki and pepperoni pizza. A commercial touted them as "the greatest thing since sliced bread." But that didn't turn out to be the case: McStuffins McBombed. They were gone from McDonald's menus faster than you could heat up a Hot Pocket.
Fried Roast Beef Sandwich
In 1968, McDonald's attempted to compete with Arby's by creating its own fried roast beef sandwich. The fast-food chain served sliced beef on a sesame seed roll with barbecue sauce on the side.
Customers loved it, but the sandwiches would've required McDonald's nationwide to have a meat slicer, which wasn't cost-efficient And so, the world had to say goodbye to Mickey D's roast beef. It's been gone for more than half a century now.
When you think of McDonald's, you think of good old American fare—not Italian, like the McSpaghetti, and not Mexican, like say, chicken fajitas. Nevertheless, McDonald's sold its own version of the popular dish in 1993. The fajitas included chicken, cheese, red and green bell peppers, and diced onions in a flour tortilla (with mild and spicy Picante sauce packets available upon request). McDonald's commercial claimed one bite of their chicken fajitas was like "a taste of Mexico… without the sunburn."
The fajitas didn't last long on Mickey D's menu, but they do still have a smattering of supporters. In 2013, someone launched a Change.org petition to bring the fajitas back. "The chicken fajita was a delicious part of the McD's Dollar Menu and should be brought back," the petitioner wrote.
Chopped Beefsteak Sandwich
This menu item never made it past the test stages, but it was intended to accompany the gone-but-not-forgotten Onion Nuggets.
The Chopped Beefsteak Sandwich, which hit select stores in 1979, was basically just a longer hamburger with onions and steak sauce. Don't miss this vintage commercial! It had a solid run into the 1980s but was then pulled from stores.
Spanish Omelette Bagel
McDonald's has an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach when it comes to its breakfast items. McMuffins? Check! Hashbrowns? Check check! Hot Cakes? Check check check!
But in the early 2000s, McDonald's tried to change things up with the Spanish Omelette Bagel. It was simply ham, cheese, and egg on a bagel with some Spanish spices. Unfortunately, it didn't take off and was removed after a very short run.
In October 2018, a fan tweeted at McDonald's to bring back the Spanish Omelette Bagel, but that's not happening anytime soon. "We like to evolve our menu, so we change it up from time to time," the official McDonald's Twitter responded. "Hope you find a new favorite!" McDonald's did bring back a few of its bagel sandwiches, including the Steak, Egg, & Cheese bagel in select markets.
Big N' Tasty
Initially, McDonald's introduced the Big N' Tasty burger in California in 1997 in conjunction with Disney's California Adventure theme park opening. (It was part of the same Disney-McDonald's deal that led to the Szechuan sauce disaster of 1998.)
There wasn't anything inherently wrong with the Big N' Tasty, which was rolled out nationally in 2000. But in 2011, it ended up getting phased out in favor of newer products. As they say, all good things must come to an end.
This article was originally published in March 2019. It has been updated with new information.