Some eight decades ago, the McDonald brothers
opened their restaurant with a very different vision than what it would eventually become.
As times changed, the McDonald's menu changed with items appearing and disappearing. Here's
what McDonald's menu looked like the year you were born. Brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald opened
the first McDonald's on the corner of 14th and North E Streets in San Bernardino, California,
on May 15, 1940. But this restaurant looked nothing like the ones we've come to know today.
It had no indoor seating and only a few stools at an outside counter.
Most customers would
just pull their cars into the parking lot and have their food served to them by carhops. But the most notable difference between that
first McDonald's and what the chain would eventually become was its early focus on barbecue.
The brothers would slow-cook meat for hours in a barbecue pit filled with hickory chips
that they imported all the way from Arkansas. The barbecue stand quickly gained popularity,
with annual sales topping $200,000. The first McDonald's location was successful,
but it wasn’t because of the barbecue. Instead, hamburgers were accounting for 80 percent
of the restaurant's sales. The brothers shut the restaurant down for three months in 1948
and completely overhauled the business model. When it reopened, McDonald's had become a
self-service eatery. Most importantly, it pared down its menu to just hamburgers, cheeseburgers,
soft drinks, milk, coffee, potato chips, and a slice of pie. The hamburger cost just 15
cents. "Welcome to McDonald's. May I take your order? "Yeah, gimme a hamburger, a French fries,
and a Coca-Cola." "That'll be 35 cents please." Not only was the menu a noticeable change,
but McDonald's was revolutionizing the food service industry.
Its entire operation was
now based on speed, consistency, and keeping costs and prices as low as possible. Inspired
by Henry Ford and automobile manufacturing, McDonald's implemented an assembly-line production
of hamburgers. This ensured that each hamburger was made exactly the same and could be delivered
to customers without any wait. This low-cost, high-volume business model is still a hallmark
of McDonald's today. It's difficult to imagine McDonald's not offering
French fries. After all, it serves nine million pounds of fries each day, making them the
restaurant's most popular item. But believe it or not, French fries weren't always on
the menu, even after McDonald's switched from barbecue to burgers. The restaurant was struggling
when it first reopened in 1948. Once the McDonald brothers swapped out potato chips for French
fries, however, sales went up, and the rest is history. McDonald's French fries haven't been completely
without controversy. Up until the 1990s, the fries were cooked in beef tallow, which is
high in cholesterol. After some public uproar, McDonald's switched to vegetable oil.
The McDonald's corporation owes a great deal
of its success to its franchising business model. But franchisees have contributed to
far more than just the bottom line. These independent business owners created many,
if not most, of the famous fast food restaurant's iconic menu items. That trend started with
the Filet-O-Fish. In 1959, Lou Groen opened the first McDonald's
in the Cincinnati area, specifically in Monfort Heights. There was one problem with owning
a hamburger restaurant in this neighborhood: The population was 87% Catholic. And back
in the early years of Groen's business, Catholics would avoid meat on all Fridays throughout
To stay afloat, Groen devised a new fish sandwich
to sell. He took the idea to McDonald's chief Ray Kroc, who had his own meatless menu idea:
A slice of pineapple on a bun called the Hula Burger. Kroc agreed to put both on the menu
and see which sold best. The Filet-O-Fish won overwhelmingly. Jim Delligatti opened his first of several
McDonald's restaurant in Pittsburgh in 1957. However, the restaurants were suffering from
low sales volumes. To fix this, Delligatti thought he needed to add to the menu in hopes
that it would broaden the customer base. Delligatti had previously managed a Big Boy
drive-in chain that had a double-decker sandwich on its menu.
When it came time to add to his
McDonald's menu, he created his own riff on this by combining two beef patties, lettuce,
cheese, pickles, and onions on a bun. The final ingredient was a special sauce that
to this day remains a secret. Aside from its taste, the burger has been
aided by some successful marketing, including an unforgettable commercial jingle.
"The McDonald's Big Mac. You gotta taste it to believe it."
The restaurant chain estimated in 2007 that it was selling approximately 550 million Big
Macs in the United States each year. The Quarter Pounder trails only the Big Mac
on the list of McDonald's most iconic burgers.
So famous is it that it found its way into
one of the most famous bits of dialogue in recent movie history. "You know what they call a quarter pounder
with cheese in Paris?" "The don't call it a quarter pounder with
cheese?" "No man, they got the metric system over there." McDonald's released the Quarter Pounder burger
nationwide beginning in 1973. It was invented by Al Bernardin, a McDonald's corporate employee
who eventually rose to become head of the McDonald's training center, Hamburger University.
But his most notable contribution came after he left headquarters to open a McDonald's
franchise in Fremont, California. Wanting to satiate customers looking for, as he said,
"a higher ratio of meat to bun," Bernardin came up with a more substantial burger.
Yet another franchisee-created menu item came
about in the mid-1970s with the introduction of the Egg McMuffin. This breakfast staple
was the brainchild of Herb Peterson, who owned a McDonald's in Santa Barbara, California.
Peterson believed McDonald's could be a successful morning-hours restaurant but didn't think
people wanted to eat burgers for breakfast. A fan of eggs Benedict, Peterson experimented
with a sandwich version of the dish. Eschewing hollandaise sauce because of its messiness,
Peterson placed butter and cheese on top of an egg, along with Canadian bacon, all in
between an English muffin. Not only was the Egg McMuffin another popular
menu item, but it opened a whole new market for McDonald's. By 1981, breakfast accounted
for nearly 20 percent of the restaurant's sales.
1979: The Happy Meal In the late 1970s, a McDonald's St. Louis
regional advertising manager, Dick Brams, suggested the idea of creating a meal just
In 1979, it came to fruition when a circus-wagon-themed Happy Meal was served.
It had most of the same components you'll find today: a hamburger or cheeseburger, French
fries, cookies, and a soft drink. The final, and most important Happy Meal ingredient
is the toy. Back then, lucky kids received a stencil, wallet, ID bracelet, puzzle lock,
spinning top, or McDonaldland-character eraser. Nowadays, the toys change nearly every week.
Over the years, they have included Transformers, Hello Kitty, Legos, Teletubbies, and G.I.
Joe. The most notable upgrade occurred in 1987, when Disney character toys first appeared. In the 1970’s McDonald’s faced a very
difficult challenge as consumer behavior began to shift.
It was during this time that the
government began recommending people eat less red meat due to its high fat and cholesterol
content. Wanting to keep the customers who were eating
less beef, the restaurant looked to chicken for help. Their first few ideas, including
fried chicken and a deep-fried chicken pot pie, failed. Eventually, they decided to simplify
the dish by cutting the chicken into chunks, battering it, and throwing it in the fryer.
Just five months later, in 1980, McDonald's served its first Chicken McNuggets in Knoxville,
Tennessee. It would take a few years for the company
to build out their restaurants' infrastructures to be able to make the countless nuggets they
would need to, but in 1983, Chicken McNuggets finally became available nationwide.
The McRib made its way onto McDonald's menus
in the early 1980s. As it turns out, it was the result of the popularity of the recently
introduced Chicken McNuggets. Consumers were buying so many nuggets that it resulted in
a chicken shortage. In order to give diners another option, McDonald's created a pork
sandwich. But just a few years after its debut, it was
pulled from menus and replaced with the McDLT, a burger that came with lettuce and tomato.
Though this doesn't seem like a revolutionary idea, McDonald's had long resisted adding
vegetables to their burgers. It wasn't until they came up with a two-compartment storage
box that kept hot and cold ingredients separated that the restaurant relented.
As for the McRib, it made a brief return in
1994. Since then, it has been an elusive item to find, popping up on the McDonald's menu
here and there for a limited time. By the mid-1980s, McDonald's was bringing
in $11 billion in sales per year. During this time, the fast food pizza industry was growing
rapidly. Despite pizza and hamburgers not necessarily being a natural fit, McDonald's
wanted a slice of the proverbial pie. The company's pizza testing started in 1986
and expanded a few years later, and by the 1990s, approximately 40 percent of the McDonald's
locations in the United States were serving pizza.
But that's about as far as it got.
The product had notable problems that eventually caused
it to be removed from the menu. Restaurants needed new equipment to make pizza and had
to remodel their kitchens. Furthermore, pizza takes time to cook, so customers had extended
wait times. The McDonald's health kick continued into
the 1990s as critics continued to rail against fast food restaurants' limited offerings.
Eventually, McDonald's unveiled the McLean Deluxe. It contained just nine percent fat
by weight, significantly less than the 20 percent most of the restaurant's other burgers
had. The McLean had a lot of things going against
it. Most evident was a lack of flavor. "Low fat, and delicious? Can't be done." Seasoned water was added to the beef patties
to make up for the missing fat, most of which burned off in the cooking.
The McLean dried
out quickly, so it had to be made to order, which went completely against McDonald's business
model of getting customers in and out as quickly as possible. All this plus the fact that the
burger was also McDonald's most expensive led to the McLean having a short shelf life. McDonald's added some big hits to its dessert
menu in the early 1990s. First came the baked apple pie, introduced in 1992. The restaurant,
of course, had already been serving apple pie going back as far as the 1960s. But these
pies were fried, and with increased health concerns, sales waned. So McDonald's updated
the apple pie by baking it instead. A few years later, a creative franchise owner
in Canada named Ron McLellan came up with what would prove to be McDonald's signature
dessert: The McFlurry. This concoction of soft serve ice cream mixed with candy, was
first served at McLellan's restaurant in Bathurst, New Brunswick. It has since spread to menus
around the world. In an attempt to appeal to more adults, McDonald's
created the Arch Deluxe, a more expensive burger, which was a quarter pound of beef,
bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions, ketchup, and secret sauce.
McDonald's has always been
known for its cheap, quick food, so trying to go for a more sophisticated look did not
work. Sales of the burger disappointed, a fact that
on its own may not have been a disaster. But McDonald's spent $150 million and created
a huge marketing campaign to promote its new product. The Arch Deluxe began being phased
out in 1998 and was gone from menus completely by 2000.
McDonald's opened a new type of store to kick
off the 21st century. It was supposed to be more upscale than a typical fast food outlet,
with leather couches, bistro-style tables, and food served on fine china with stainless
steel flatware. Although all McCafes were located within or
adjacent to traditional McDonald's restaurants, the menu was significantly different. As the
name implies, its offerings included gourmet coffees, teas, pastries, and desserts. Brick-and-mortar
McCafe locations didn't last long, and since 2009, McCafe food and beverage items have
become fully integrated into the traditional McDonald's menu. Beginning in 2002, McDonald's offered several
different items for just $1 each. These included a McChicken sandwich, McValue fries, a small
or medium soft drink, a Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait, a side salad, two baked apple pies, a sundae,
and the restaurant's newest burger at the time, the Big N' Tasty. The idea behind the Dollar Menu was to lure
customers in with extremely inexpensive food and then try to upsell them with other items
in hopes of getting them to spend more. The strategy only half-worked.
The people came,
but they didn't spend; at least not enough for the menu to work. During the first month
of the Dollar Menu's existence, the chain's average check total actually fell three cents
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