Why is McDonald's Ice Cream Machine Broken Most of the Time?

Jason Weiland


Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

It never fails.

Every. Single. Time.

I lived in the Philippines for over nine years, and there were a few things I missed about the U.S. of A. Fast food was at the top of the list, because while there were a few choices for greasy and quick on the islands, some restaurants were noticeably missing.

I wanted a $5 pepperoni pizza from Little Caesars and a Mexican Pizza from Taco Bell. I wanted a Wendy’s Triple and a Frosty. Sometimes I wanted a roast beef sandwich from Arby’s or a chicken sandwich from Popeyes.

I craved these things because I’m obsessed with food — and not just fast food. But on the days when I missed what I couldn’t have, one thing usually made me feel better, and only one thing:

An ice cream cone from McDonald's.

Sometimes on a hot day, which is most of the time in the Philippines, there is nothing better than a creamy cone, McFlurry, or my wife’s favorite coffee or Coke float.

The ice cream at McDonald’s is one of the few things that taste the same as its counterpart in the States. Often, the restaurants will substitute ingredients, and while it’s fantastic, it’s still different.

Sometimes different is not always better.

But, a disturbing trend happened at my favorite fast-food restaurant. It started years ago but got much worse when the lockdown was over for most of the city.

I pulled into the drive-thru and clicked the button to open the window. Hot and humid air, tinged with french fry smoke and car exhaust, blasted me in the face. The speaker crackled to life, and although I never understood a word the drive-thru worker was saying, I knew they wanted me to order. The usual is a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, large french fry, and a large, icy coke.

My wife likes chicken nuggets.

Before she asked if I want anything else, I bellowed, “and TWO ICE CREAM CONES!”

It’s a toss-up what you will hear next, but often, it’s was the dreaded phrase, “Sorry, sir. Not available.”

My heart went cold, and my nether regions shriveled. Most of the time, I’m so disappointed that all I can croak out is a sardonic “REALLY?” before pulling forward, and regarding the cashier with the best version of a stink-eye I can muster.

I don’t see it, but my wife says I’m intimidating, so before I put the money in the little cup, I flashed a million-dollar smile and said “Hello!” because I had been where they are, and I knew how hard it is to work in fast food.

These are my people, so I couldn’t mistreat them — they are just doing their jobs. It wasn't their fault that the ice cream machine isn’t working 99.9% of the time.

So whose fault is it?

How Big of A Problem is This?

The crazy thing is that this issue has become a running joke around the world. Search for “How come the McDonalds ice cream machine is always broken,” and you get over 7 million results.

A 24-year-old software engineer, Rashiq Zahid, even came up with a web application called McBroken that tracks all the McDonalds locations around the U.S. and displays their ice cream machine’s status.

It’s a huge problem.

Many people have come out in defense of McDonald’s because it seems as if these magic machines have to go through a 4-hour sanitation cycle every night, and I know how that is because I had the same experience with my shake machines at Burger King. Food safety is no laughing matter, and you have to sanitize the crap out of those things so no one gets sick.

But I call bull.

I don’t go to McDonald’s at 2 am looking for creamy goodness. Most of the time, I visit during and after lunch, and it never fails:

“Sorry, sir! Not available.”

Looking back on my fast food days, I can think of one other thing that could cause trouble, at least for the Philippines McDonalds. To get that spectacular creaminess level, it takes a unique ice cream mixture that Ronald keeps a secret. In the Philippines, there is no fresh milk or cream, only the highly processed kind you can find on the grocery store’s room temperature shelves.

Places like McDonald’s and Dairy Queen have to ship in their cream mixture, and if one person in the extended supply line makes a mistake, you can have cases where it is out of stock.

I understand that, but I also know there is some very fancy math involved that estimates need by looking at the sales and orders over the year. I can count the number of times I have run out of shake mix on one hand at Burger King because the ordering system does it all for you.

So what is the deal?

It’s a Conspiracy!

Since we know how much everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, one occurred to me as I was driving away from McDonald’s ice-creamless one day.

They are using scarcity marketing to sell more food.

“Scarcity refers to a gap between limited resources and theoretically limitless wants.”- Wikipedia

If you took ECON 101, you know scarcity sells: “The law of supply and demand states that a low supply and high demand for a product will typically increase its price…” or value.

So what if McDonald’s is taking it’s most popular product and creating a demand for it by only having it be available a small percentage of the time? Don’t you think customers would be coming to the restaurant at different hours of the day to buy ice cream and food, especially if it is hot outside or the kids are out of school?

Most people like me are addicted to the McDonald’s experience and will go out of our way to fulfill our need for the grease, salt, sugar, and oil they feed us. And McDonald’s needs something, especially during the pandemic, to ensure we keep going through the drive-thru to order.

Do I have any proof? Nope, but it gets your mind thinking about how we, the consumer, can affect change.

Think about it. You might think McDonald’s gets upset that everybody is making fun of them, but the fact is that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity!”

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” — Oscar Wilde

The more we talk about McDonald’s, the more ice cream and french fries they sell. And when you go to McDonald’s for ice cream, don’t you have to order a burger and a Coke?

They are laughing all the way to the bank.

So to make them change, we may have to do something drastic. If ice cream is not available, don’t order anything. If one restaurant is notorious for never having ice cream available, don’t go there anymore.

Vote with your dollars, and let them know we want our damn ice cream!

Come on, Ronald!

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Writer and advocate interested in mental health, health, family, culture, creativity, and success.

Los Angeles, CA

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