McDonald’s ice cream desserts are famed not just for their taste but also for their scarcity. The machines used to make the elusive McFlurry are on the blink enough to have prompted internet memes, social media angst and even conspiracy theories.
One Twitter wag described the disappointment of not being able to order a McFlurry a “universal American experience,” along with learning to play the recorder. Even McDonald’s has gotten in on the fun: “We have a joke about our soft serve machine but we’re worried it won’t work,” the company tweeted last fall.
Then there’s McBroken, a website that tracks the status of ice cream machine at every McDonald’s location in America. It shows that 30% of McFlurry makers in New York City are currently on the fritz, while patrons in Houston and Dallas can expect 20%, and 15%, respectively, of machines to be down.
it’s actually iconic that the only universal american experience is learning to play the recorder and being unable to purchase mcdonald’s ice cream bc the machine is broken
— mike (@miggy_azalea_) August 30, 2021
I recently exemplified the principle of “good, better, best” by driving past three McDonald’s on my way to In-N-Out because I knew their ice cream machine would be working
— miss madie (@missmadiejean) August 30, 2021
If you’re on death row, ask for McDonald’s ice cream as your last meal. They’ll never find a working machine and you will get to live!
— Vick Ahuja (@Ahujababydaddy) August 27, 2021
At least one company’s attempt to fix McFlurry machines has led to a legal showdown with their manufacturer, Taylor Commercial Foodservice. In 2019, a startup called Kytch developed software to make it easier for restaurant owners to fix their broken ice cream machines. The technology was wildly popular, bringing Kytch to a $50 million valuation, before Taylor abruptly barred restaurant owners from using it, according to an in-depth report by Wired.
Kytch’s founders sued Taylor and a McDonald’s franchisee in May, accusing them of illegally copying Kytch’s product in order to “protect a multimillion-dollar repair racket.” Taylor did not respond to a request for comment from CBS MoneyWatch.
Now, the feds are on the case. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the Federal Trade Commission has informed McDonald’s franchise owners of a “preliminary investigation” and inquired about franchisees’ use of equipment, including the ice cream machines, as well as how often owners are allowed to repair their own equipment.
The agency’s letter said “the existence of a preliminary investigation does not indicate the FTC or its staff have found any wrongdoing,” according to the Journal. The FTC declined to comment to CBS MoneyWatch.