Why Are McDonald's Ice Cream Machines Always Down?
Why does it seem that McDonald’s ice cream machines are almost always broken? It seems that about half the time I go for a McFlurry or shake, the damn machine is broken. I mean, it doesn’t seem that Wendy’s frosty machine or Chick-fil-a‘s shake machine are always broken, so why is it that McDonald’s machines are?
First, let’s look at the numbers, Are these ice cream machines really broken that often? The answer is, to take a look for yourself. Someone set up the McBroken website which tracks McDonald’s broken ice cream machines. Sure enough, machines in New York City for example have 22.45% of the machines in the state that are currently broken at the time I drafted this post. Chicago is only slightly better. In Fredericksburg (a 10-mile radius from my house), where I live, 5 machines are currently down, 8 are reporting as up and one is not reporting at all. Those are not great numbers at all.
So why do they always seem to be down? The answer seems to come down to money, and not the cost to repair them, nope, I mean they are offline because they make McDonald’s money when they are broken. Wait, what, how can that be, they are not making ice cream, so how do they make money?
If you look at it in terms of making money, which is why companies are in business, then it starts to make sense. Since the machines are broken several times a week, and Taylor, the company that makes and services the ice cream machines, makes a quarter of its revenue from maintenance, then it really starts to make sense.
Let’s say that a machine is $10,000 to purchase and each McDonald’s purchases two of these machines, and Taylor is the only machine that McDonald’s can use, then Taylor is making just $20k per restaurant (two machines per restaurant), but this is only a one time purchase. So how can Taylor make more money? Simple, that is via maintenance on these two machines per restaurant. There are 13,512 restaurants in the US in 2023 (at the time I drafted this post), so that is $135 million, which is a sweet little treat. But that is a one-time fee, let’s say that maintenance is $10K per contract year with Taylor per restaurant, so that now becomes $135 million annually, which is an extra sweet treat. Now if Taylor and McDonald’s split some of this money, it makes sense as to why these machines are down all the time.
Alright, let’s stop and rewind for a second. I want to know, why is this such a big deal? Let’s look at it this way, let’s say that once a day the average ice cream machine at McDonald’s is broken. Let’s say that it is broken for 1 hour each day (it is more like 4 hours). Now to see how big of a deal this is, let’s say that we aren’t talking about McDonald’s ice cream machines, let’s say it is the McDonald’s french fry deep fryer that is down once a day for an hour, during lunchtime, or maybe the Coke machine or the burger grill. That sounds silly, but it is just the ice cream machine, and it sounds less important. Could you imagine having a carload of screaming kids all wanting a freaking McDonald’s Happy Meal and the fry machine is down?
In 1956, Taylor Freezer Corporation entered into a contract with Ray Kroc of McDonald’s to be the exclusive milkshake machine vendor. And when you purchase a Taylor ice cream machine, the only people that can service it are licensed Taylor repair engineers, then you have a nice little money machine.
In 2017, McDonald’s announced that franchisees can now purchase either from Taylor or from Carpigiani. Carpigiani ice cream machines are reported to be more expensive to purchase but are not plagued with the problems that the Taylor machines have. This brings up the question of, what is the problem with the Taylor machines.
It appears that the Taylor machines are programmed to clean themselves (4-hour cleaning cycle), it has a preprogrammed mode called “Heat mode” which is when the machine, just decides it needs to be cleaned and it automatically enters this mode. This mode heats up everything in the machine to kill off bacteria. The problem appears to be that once this mode is completed, the machine doesn’t always want to go back to work and that is when you need to call the Taylor repair person.
But is so much more, check out this video by Food Theory and Right To Repair.