The message of Happy Meals for adults seemed like a nice little publicity stunt for McDonald’s and a fun story for everyone to laugh along with. Four-eyed Cactus Plant Flea Market-style toys of old McDonald’s characters in a box for the grown-ups seems a surefire way to viral success. But it turns out to backfire spectacularly on McDonald’s employees, who report the hugely popular promotion has caused chaos and misery as they struggle to fill an avalanche of orders. “Bro please don’t order those adult McDonald’s Happy Meals bro I beg you,” one staffer wrote on TikTok.
The 2021 Pokémon Card promotion was seen by many as the low point in customer invasions for the world’s largest fast-food chain’s underpaid employees. However, according to staff we spoke to, as well as those who have posted on Reddit and on social media, Happy Meals For Adults’ endeavor is proving to be a lot worse this month.
Captioned “New Adult Happy Meals Are Killing Me,” an anonymous worker posted on Reddit: “We literally just came off the ‘buy one, get one for a buck’ and were inundated with Big Mac meals. Now we have to literally hoard them to survive an onslaught. I hate it.”
It seems that offering a cheap burger, combined with what will inevitably become a collectible toy, has sent customers into a frenzy as orders come in faster than restaurants can serve them. “The most difficult aspect of this campaign for the crew is the sheer volume of these meals that we are selling,” said one worker kotaku via Reddit DMs. “Most of the stores I saw either the specialty boxes, the Big Mac buns, or the toys were sold out. In some places it’s more than one of these.”
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The problem seems to be that in order to purchase one of the adult Happy Meals, customers must pick up a Big Mac or a box of 10 chicken nuggets — significantly larger and more complex orders than in a traditional kids’ Happy Meal box. That, and kids only get a Happy Meal if they’ve successfully tricked an adult into buying them one. Adults can just buy stuff whenever they want. And you are. In crazy numbers. It doesn’t help that the boxes don’t even seem to be stackable, which puts an additional strain on the staff who have to juggle the endless orders.
Many workers go to Reddit to post pictures of extraordinary orders coming in either through the app or in the drive-thrus. For example, this monster order from a drive-through included eight Big Macs and 20 chicken nuggets, along with ten servings of fries, ten drinks, etc., all in adult-sized Happy Meal boxes. With a 50% discount coupon. For only one customer in the long line, and from what we’ve seen this is non-stop. One employee reported that his manager recalled an order for 43 fries at once.
I asked an employee how that compares to a normal day. “I’d say at least double or triple the Big Macs and not too many more nuggets.” Of course, that then impacts everyone in the store, whether they’re working the checkout or trying to keep up with orders in the kitchens keep.
Others post footage on TikTok showing an extraordinary number of Happy Meal orders on the line.
Another TikTok video simply shows a McD employee asking people not to order the adult Happy Meal.
It’s hard to express how popular this offer is. But maybe there’s an idea that videos of people posting that they just bought one on Tiktok regularly get hundreds of thousands of views, sometimes millions.
Another McDonald’s employee I spoke to told me that the Cactus Plant Flea Market box sold out for the first day’s meals. They added, while acknowledging that taking orders and making drinks wasn’t that bad, “I can see the stress among my co-workers.”
This is all, of course, compounded by customers’ ability to now order meals to their homes using delivery apps, which has become dramatically more popular during the pandemic and allows people to place huge orders without fear of having to carry them. That, plus the “mess” caused by McDonald’s-owned app: When people can retrieve their hyper-specific orders without having to leave home, and are sometimes offered a discount, they feel more comfortable when they’re after absurd meals ask with endless customizations.
Some better news: When I asked one of the McDonald’s employees if their bosses understood, they responded emphatically. “Although I cannot vouch for any business other than my own, they are under the same stress as me and the rest of the crew. And they understood the situation very well.”
We have reached out to McDonald’s to ask if they are aware of these situations and if they have any plans to better support employees and will update them if they respond.