Most people know not to get their hopes up if they head to a McDonald’s for a McFlurry—it’s a running joke that the ice cream machine always seems to be broken when you stop at McDonald’s. But why can’t McDonald’s get it together and give its customers what they want?
The main reason is that the ice cream machines take forever to clean, taking up to four hours to sanitize—and it has to be done every single day. When the machines are in the process of being cleaned, they can’t serve ice cream. And, when the staff is handing out Big Macs left and right, no one has the time to tend to the laborious machine.
What your fast food worker won't tell you
What your fast food worker won't tell you
After we cook something, we put it in a holding cabinet and set a timer.
When the timer goes off, we’re supposed to throw it out. But often, we just reheat the food. So for the freshest meal, come between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. More people are in the restaurant then, so we’re cooking and serving new food constantly. (These are the worst meals you could order at a restaurant, by the way.)
That plain chicken breast may have been a healthy choice out of the package...
But sometimes we have to slather it with butter just to make sure it doesn’t stick to the grill. On the other hand, these healthy fast foods can satisfy unhealthy cravings.
There’s usually a way to get expensive menu items for less
If you’re craving a Big Mac, for example, order a $1 McDouble with no mustard or ketchup and then add shredded lettuce and Mac sauce for a small charge. It’s basically a mini Big Mac, and you can get two for less than the cost of one Big Mac. Check out more trivia facts you probably didn't know about McDonald's.
Most fast-food joints clean everything with super-concentrated chemicals at the end of the day
That includes the grills and the drink machine nozzles. If you’re one of the first customers in the morning, you may be getting some of that chemical residue on the food or in the drink you order—or, worse. You won't believe what was found on the ice in some fast food restaurants.
Those grill marks on your burger?
Not real. They were put there by the factory. If you want REAL grill marks, it's probably best to make your own at home with one of these burger recipes.
Most of us will cook something fresh for you if you ask
But if you want to make sure your french fries come right out of the fryer, order them without salt; that forces us to cook you a new batch. Then you can add your own salt, and they'll still taste the same. That's because of the secret ingredient that makes McDonald's fries so addictive.
Avoid asking for “extra” of something, like cheese or sauce
As soon as you say “extra,” we have to enter it at the register and charge you for it. Instead, just tell us you want us to “put a good amount on there” or “not to be skimpy with it,” and we’ll load you up.
Yes, our chili is made from what you think:
Meat from old burgers.
It makes me laugh when someone comes in and says she’s trying to be healthy—and then orders a salad with crispy chicken
At McDonald’s, some of those salads have about as many calories as a Big Mac. In fact, a small order of french fries contains four fewer grams of fat than a packet of our ranch dressing. Also, be wary of these "healthy" fast food choices that definitely aren't.
We’re timed on how fast we get customers through the drive-through...
...so we always prioritize those in line outside over anyone at the front counter. And after you leave the drive-through, use this trick to keep your fries crispy the whole way home.
One of my coworkers once got so mad that he spit in someone’s food
He was suspended for three days. Most of us would never do something like that.
Here’s a good way to know how clean a fast-food establishment really is:
When you get your drink, bend down and look up into the ice chute. If you see mold and other stuff growing in there—which is more common than you might expect—they’re not cleaning the machine as often as they’re supposed to.
Those gorgeous pictures of our food in our advertisements?
They’re airbrushed and touched up with fiberglass and paint. It probably takes two hours to make that picture. Obviously, we’re not going to be able to replicate that.
Please, please, get off your cell phone
I’ve had people pull up to the window, pay, and drive away without their food because they’re talking on the phone and not paying attention. Then they’re mad at me. Here are some more crazy stories from drive-through workers.
At most fast-food restaurants, it’s tough to give away free food
Especially things like burgers, because they’re inventoried. We can sometimes give away French fries, ice cream or drinks because we get those ourselves, but it depends on which manager is on duty.
We hate it when you order an ice cream
Most of the time, we’ve got to make it, and it’s already melting by the time we hand it to you. If you order four or five cones at a time, it’s almost impossible to get them to you before they melt everywhere, and then you want new ones.
Here’s something that surprised me when I started working at McDonald's:
Our clam grills are set at 750 degrees, and they can fully cook a regular beef hamburger in just 38 seconds, a quarter pounder in 70 seconds. The first time I ever saw that, I was like, 'Ewww.'
We’re happy to replace something if we mess up, but...
We can usually tell when you’re making up a story to get free food. There was one guy who found a pebble in our parking lot, put it in his food after he ate most of it, and then asked for a replacement. Another lady took 10 tacos home. The next day, she brought just a few of them back, showing us that their lettuce was brown. She wanted another 10 tacos. But of course, if you leave tacos out for 24 hours, the lettuce will turn. Love tacos? Here are some fun taco recipes to try.
Some fast-food workers definitely follow the 10-second rule
I have seen people drop food and then pick it back up and put it on the grill.
No, most of us do not donate our leftovers
I can’t believe how much food we throw out every day, especially at the end of the night. You, however, can do your part. Here's how you can cut back on food waste at home.
All fast-food restaurants are not created equal
Even restaurants within the same chain can vary widely depending on the owner and manager and what kind of standards they set.
When you take three handfuls of napkins or fill your purse with ketchup packets...
I don’t know what you call it, but I call it stealing. You’re just making things more expensive for everyone.
Please don’t ask what ingredients are in our fried chicken coating or in our special sauce
All of our recipes are proprietary, so they don’t even tell us what’s in them. But we can tell you why McDonald's Coke tastes better than anywhere else.
At some restaurants, managers get a bonus if they hold onto their employees and keep their turnover rate down
That gives us an incentive to keep people who aren’t very good, even if they don’t know the difference between a French fry and a screwdriver. And I’m not exaggerating; I’ve had employees who were that bad.
Most of us, even the managers, aren’t making much more than minimum wage
You wouldn’t believe the stuff we put up with for that kind of money. People constantly talk to me like I’m a two-year-old. I’ve had customers throw drinks at me and cuss at me. I’ve been held up at gunpoint.
At Taco Bell, most of our food does carry over, so we reheat it and serve it the next day
That’s why I never take my lunch break early. Plus, fast food can have some weird effects on your brain.
For the best deal at McDonald's, order off the dollar menu
You can get a lot of food for the same price as a meal and it will fill you up more.
We were supposed to wear gloves when we made food
But a lot of times my co-workers didn’t do it, and that really skeeved me out. Here are more dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew won't tell you.
Most of us don’t wash our hands as much as we should
Even though there are signs everywhere reminding us it's the law.
Look around to see how much trash is in the parking lot
And whether the bathrooms are dirty and if the dining room is picked up. When things that are so publicly visible are neglected, you can bet that even more is being neglected in the back and in the kitchen where no one can see them. That's just one of the things restaurant health inspectors wish you knew.
Once your order is in at the drive-through...
We have two minutes to get your food before the screen turns red, and the manager asks what’s going on.
We do laugh at you behind your back
Like when you mispronounce our menu items or when you think we can’t hear you through the drive-through speaker, yelling at your husband or kids.
When it was slow, sometimes we would all take the garbage out...
And smoke marijuana in the back. Really, it's true. Want more crazy food service stories? Here's everything your waiter isn't telling you.
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In early 2017, McDonald’s announced that they were going to be replacing their soft serve machines with ones that are easier to maintain and wouldn’t take as long to clean. However, actually installing the new equipment in every restaurant is taking a very long time and customers are still complaining.
So for now, you may have to keep your McFlurry cravings to a minimum until all of the new machines are in place. If you really can’t control yourself, an extremely fed up customer kindly created an app that lets you check if the ice cream machine is working at the McDonald’s closest to you.
Most expensive fast food items
Most expensive fast food items
The Baconzilla! is one big burger, and it’s the priciest burger on the Checkers menu. It contains two beef patties, three pieces of cheese and four times the bacon of most burgers. If you don't want to pay nearly $7 for this burger, make your own giant burger for under $5.
At nearly $8, West Coast Mexican-food chain Del Taco offers an indulgent feast that won’t leave you hungry. The Epic Carne Asada Burrito is loaded with freshly grilled carne asada, lime rice, beans, pico de gallo and guacamole, all bundled in a big flour tortilla.
Dunkin’ Donuts: Large Coolatta or Large Frozen Dunkin’ Coffee
Some go to Dunkin' for the donuts. Some go for the signature coffee. Others are all about the Coolatta. Surprisingly, it's the frozen coffee and icy Coolatta that are the most expensive offerings on the Boston-area doughnut chain's menu for individual items.
In California, a large Coolatta will run you approximately almost $6.39. But at 850 calories and 32 ounces in the vanilla bean variety, that's a whole lot of drink. If you prefer to save some calories, choose the large Frozen Dunkin' Coffee. Have it made with skim milk, and you’ll shave off 300 calories.
Jack in the Box is a jack of all trades, known for cheap offerings that college students must consider the best fast food. After all, Jack in the Box has the late-night menu that includes late-night-only "Munchies." But the most expensive fast food items are a variety of chicken salads, which are distinctly outside the box for Jack. Still, $7 gets you a fairly hearty meal including a decent-sized chicken breast with your veggies.
Arby’s: Smokehouse Brisket
Brisket isn't cheap — unless you're at Arby's. At your traditional restaurant, 13-hour pit-smoked brisket and Gouda cheese could really run up your bill. But Arby's manages to pull it off for just over $7. The Angus Three Cheese and Bacon, and the Angus Philly are also the same price as the brisket.
Still, it’s one of the most expensive fast food items on Arby’s menu. The restaurant serves that brisket on an artisan-style roll, topped with the cheese, onions, mayonnaise and BBQ sauce. The Angus Three Cheese and Bacon, and the Angus Philly are also the same price as the brisket.
Sonic: Large Master Blast or Classic Ultimate Chicken Sandwich
Some diners consider chicken the best fast food item, and Sonic fills that market with the Classic Ultimate Chicken Sandwich, priced at less than $8. Take a brioche bun and fill it with a thick, lightly fried chicken breast, then top that with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise for the ultimate chicken experience.
Or, at the same price, you might prefer a cold treat. A Sonic Master Blast might sound like the Power Rangers' favorite finishing move, but it's actually Sonic's swankiest "gourmet" offering. Each Master Blast features real vanilla ice cream and premium ingredients such as Snickers, waffle cone bits, malted brownies or Turtles with pecans.
Splurge at Chick-fil-A on one of the restaurant’s signature salads. At a bit over $9, the salad might sound expensive. But in reality, it’s a filling, protein-packed option for lunch or dinner.
The Cobb Salad, for instance, is a mix of chicken nuggets, lettuce, baby greens, carrots, corn, cheeses, eggs, back and grape tomatoes. The 40 grams of protein will fuel your day. The Grilled Market Salad — with its sliced grilled chicken breast, greens, vegetables and fruits — is a lower-calorie option that still provides 27 grams of protein.
Burger King: Bacon Cheddar Ranch Chicken Salad
Burger King: Bacon Cheddar Ranch Chicken Salad
At what point is a salad no longer a salad? There's no scientific answer to that, but when the words "bacon," "cheddar" and "ranch" enter the equation, it's pretty safe to say that you're veering out of health food territory. Considering that the estimated daily caloric needs for moderately active 30-year-olds is about 2,000 to 2,600, this salad's 710 calories should be plenty enough for a whole dinner. The grilled version saves 90 calories.
Dairy Queen: Chicken BLT Salad
At 270 calories and 35 grams of protein (without dressing), Dairy Queen's Chicken BLT Salad offers a healthier full meal than Burger King's ranch-drenched option — and for the same price. Grilled chicken, tomatoes, bacon, cheese, cabbage and carrots make this sub-$8 dish a solid option when you're looking for a healthy lunch on a budget.
Starbucks: Chicken Artichoke Panini
Want to save money at Starbucks? You might want to avoid ordering this delicious panini. However, it's still cheaper than what you'd find at traditional restaurants.
"Grilled chicken breast, roasted artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomato pesto and provolone cheese on ancient grain flatbread" sounds like the description of a $15 sandwich from your hippest local bistro's menu, doesn't it? Starbucks' official limited-time Chicken Artichoke on Ancient Grain Flatbread sandwich is the single most expensive item on the coffee retailer's menu at a little over $8 in California.
Wendy’s: Full Salads
Wendy's full-portion salads are a little pricier than most other fast-food salads. But you still can't spend $10 on a single menu item at the burger joint even if you tried.
Fancier ingredients, such as strawberry and mango, fresh mozzarella, pecans, feta cheese, hummus and sun-dried tomato with quinoa blends probably account for the price — at 470 to 720 calories each, your $8.50 makes a meal.
El Pollo Loco: Ultimate Double Tostada Salad and Ultimate Double Bowl
Words like "ultimate" and "double" don't usually imply affordability, but El Pollo Loco's priciest single items — Ultimate Double Tostada Salad with Shrimp or Ultimate Double Bowl with Double Baja Shrimp — only check in at about $8.50.
With ingredients such as avocado, sweet corn and cabbage, the Double Baja Shrimp Bowl ― a variation on the Grande Avocado Chicken Bowl ― can easily be ordered as a lower-priced gluten-free option for diners with special dietary needs.
Culver’s: Triple Cheddar ButterBurger With Bacon
In 2017, Business Insider made a controversial claim when it called this Midwestern chain's signature butter-fried burger "better than In-N-Out and Shake Shack." Even when covered with bacon and Wisconsin aged cheddar, this best-in-class burger ― made with fresh, Midwest-raised beef that Culver's calls "butcher quality" ― doesn't top $9.
Expensive for fast food? Sure. Expensive for possibly the best fast food burger in the country? Not really.
Typically, seafood items such as wild Alaskan salmon and shrimp skewers are on the pricier side of the menu. But Captain D's offers a whole fillet of the superfood fish over tomatoes, mixed greens and shredded cheese for under $10. Not too bad for everything salmon provides, including Omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce the risk of stroke, Alzheimer's disease and heart attacks. OK, maybe it won't make you a superhero — but it's still an affordable option for a healthy dinner.
At Hardee's ― or Carl's Jr. if you're in the West ― the $9.50-ish Monster Thickburger is worth the price just to say you did it. With two 1/3-pound black Angus beef patties, four strips of bacon and three slices of American cheese, your $10 bill buys a whole lot of burger.
Chipotle: Burritos, Bowls and Salads With Steak or Barbacoa
Though Chipotle is known as a more premium fast food establishment, its most expensive single menu item doesn't break the $10 mark, even in California. So, it's still pretty easy to save money at Chipotle.
You'll only be paying that $9.60 if you pack your burrito, bowl or salad with steak or barbacoa, the chain's most expensive meats. For that price, you're getting responsibly raised meats raised on a pasture and never treated with nontherapeutic antibiotics or hormones, as per Chipotle's "Food with Integrity" program. And the wonderfully spicy chipotle pepper adobo marinade is pretty tasty, too.
Domino’s: Chicken Carbonara Pasta Bowl
Full disclosure: If we included pizzas on this list, fast food menu prices for single items would be a whole lot more expensive. But we're not focusing on dishes that can feed a whole party here.
Though it won't feed everyone at your tailgate shindig, Domino's actually recommends breaking up its Chicken Carbonara pasta served in a bread bowl ― which is the first individual fast food item in the lineup to break the $10 mark ― into two servings. That way, you're actually only paying about $5 for your part of the meal.
White Castle: Sack of Fish Nibblers
Yes, there's a single menu item at White Castle that nears the $18 mark in some states. But the good news is that it's an actual sack of food. A whole sack of fish nibblers ―the Castle's flaky, bite-sized Alaska pollock with a crispy fried coating ― includes enough to share with a couple of friends.
Five Guys: Bacon Cheeseburger
Five Guys occupies that weird space between fast-food and sit-down dining restaurant. According to a 2017 Harris Poll study, it's officially America's favorite burger restaurant chain, knocking In-N-Out off the throne it occupied for the two previous years.
Maybe it's that reputation, combined with an insistence on hand-formed burgers made only with fresh ground beef, which allows Five Guys to get away with slightly higher menu prices than your average drive-thru.
Taco Bell: Fiesta Taco Salad With Steak (and Everything Else)
Price: $6.89 (and up)
Here's what happens when you set out to spend as much money as possible on a single item at an American fast food chain: You add everything but the kitchen sink to it. According to Taco Bell's online ordering system, a Fiesta Taco Salad in California is $5.39. Add steak for an extra $1.50, raising the base price to $6.89. However, the restaurant's "Tasty Upgrades" system allows you to customize your order with additional ingredients. That's where the fun begins.
When you add ― take a deep breath ― jalapenos, nacho cheese sauce, guacamole, chipotle sauce, avocado ranch sauce, a three-cheese blend, creamy jalapeno sauce, pico de gallo, spicy ranch, potatoes, bacon, black beans, romaine lettuce, chicken, shredded chicken and Mexican pizza sauce, you end up with a monster salad at a cost of $14.49.