The news of Happy Meals for adults seemed like a neat little publicity stunt for McDonald’s, and a fun story for everyone to chortle along with. Cactus Plant Flea Market-style four-eyed toys of the old McDonald’s characters, in a box for the grown ups, seems a certainty for viral success. However, it turns out it’s backfiring spectacularly on actual McDonald’s staff, who are reporting the hyper-popular promotion has brought about chaos and misery as they struggle to fulfill an avalanche of orders. “bro pls don’t order those adult McDonald’s happy meals bro I’m begging,” wrote one employee on TikTok.
2021's Pokémon card promotion was thought by many to be the nadir of customer invasions for the poorly-paid staff of the world’s largest fast food chain. However, this month’s Happy Meals For Adults endeavor is proving many degrees worse, according to employees we spoke to, along with those posting to Reddit and social media.
Under the title, “New Adult Happy-meals are killing me,” one anonymous worker posted to Reddit to say, “We literally just came off the ‘buy one get one for a dollar’ and we were swamped with Big Mac meals. Now with this we have to literally stockpile them to survive a rush. I hate it.”
It seems that the offer of a cheap burger, combined with what will inevitably become a collectible toy, has driven customers into a frenzy, with orders coming in faster than restaurants can serve them. “The most difficult aspect of this promo for the crew is the sheer volume of these meals that we are selling,” one worker told Kotaku via Reddit DMs. “Most stores I have seen have sold out of either the special boxes, Big Mac buns, or toys. Some places it’s more than one of these.”
The issue appears to be that in order to buy one of the adult Happy Meals, customers need to pick up a Big Mac or a box of 10 chicken nuggets—significantly bigger and more complex orders than go into a traditional child’s Happy Meal box. That, and children only get a Happy Meal when they’ve successfully nagged an adult into buying them one. Adults can just buy stuff whenever they like. And they are. In crazy numbers. And it doesn’t help that apparently the boxes haven’t even been designed to stack, something that puts additional strain on the staff who have to juggle the endless orders.
Many workers are taking to Reddit to post pictures of extraordinary orders coming through either via the app, or in drive thrus. This monster order from a drive thru, for instance, involved eight Big Macs and 20 chicken nuggets, along with ten portions of fries, ten drinks, etc, and all of them in adult Happy Meal boxes. With a 50% off coupon. For just one customer in the long line, and according to what we’ve seen, this is non-stop. One staffer reported their manager called back an order for 43 fries at once.
I asked an employee how this compared to a normal day. “I would say at least twice or three times as many Big Macs and not too many more nuggets.” This, of course, then has knock-on effects to everyone in the store, whether working the registers or trying to keep up with the orders in the kitchens.
Some are posting footage to TikTok, showing extraordinary numbers of Happy Meal orders on the line. Another TikTok video simply has a McD’s staffer begging people not to order the adult Happy Meal.
It’s hard to really express just how popular this offer is proving to be. But perhaps knowing that videos of people posting about having simply bought one on Tiktok are regularly getting hundreds of thousands of views, sometimes millions, gives an idea.
Another McDonald’s employee I spoke to told me they sold out of the Cactus Plant Flea Market box for the meals the first day. They added, while acknowledging that taking drive thru orders and making drinks wasn’t too bad, “I can see the stress among my coworkers.”
This is all exacerbated, of course, by customers’ ability to use delivery apps to order meals to their homes now, made dramatically more popular during the pandemic, and allowing people to make vast orders without fear of having to carry them. That and the “chaos” caused by McDonald’s own app: when people can tap their hyper specific orders without having to leave their house, and are sometimes offered a discount for it, they feel more comfortable asking for absurd meals that have endless customizations.
In slightly better news, when I asked one of the McDonald’s employees if their bosses were being understanding, they were emphatic in their response. “While I cannot vouch for any stores but my own, they are under an equal amount of stress as me and the rest of the crew. And they have been very understanding of the situation.”
We’ve reached out to McDonald’s to ask if they’re aware of these situations, and if they have any plans to better support staff, and will update should they reply.