The Truth Behind Those Beloved Golden Arches – 40 Of McDonald’s Best Kept Secrets

It feels like there’s a McDonald’s on every corner, right? Well, it’s no fluke. The fast-food eatery is so prevalent across the world that it reportedly feeds nearly 70 million people – more than the entire U.K. population – every single day. And if those golden arches call to you like a beacon, you’re going to want to read this. We’ve got 40 of the eatery’s best-kept secrets – including how to get fresh fries every single time.

40. There’s a franchise hierarchy

Some McDonald’s restaurants are a cut above the rest. One supposed employee revealed via Reddit that they worked at a “Top 500” outpost in Ohio, and the change in quality from low- to top-tier was astounding. While the former might leave burgers on the heaters for an hour or more, high-ranking McDonald’s establishment could only have food sitting for 10 minutes before it had to go.

39. You can get your McMuffin cheaper

A regular McMuffin comes with a slice of Canadian bacon. If you’re not a fan of the breakfast meat, though, you might order yours without it. Instead, next time, ask for an egg and cheese muffin, which is no different from the previously described pile-up. Well, except for the fact that this option’s almost $2 cheaper, according to one Redditor.

38. Peak times don’t mean peak food

You might think that visiting McDonald’s at its busiest times will ensure you get fresh food. After all, the kitchen staff will be working tirelessly to fulfil orders, right? But a number of Reddit users who said they worked for the chain have revealed that they actually cook a bunch of food pre-rush and then put it in warming cabinets. Only certain items will be made fresh, and apparently it’s usually the more obscure selections on the menu.

37. Ask (for fresh coffee) and you shall receive

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No morning would be complete without a coffee. And McDonald’s hands out a whopping 500 million cups of the stuff per day, according to the Chicago Tribune. If you stop into the Golden Arches for your caffeine fix, have a look at the pot that’s brewing. If it looks like it’s been sitting for a while, you can always ask the staff to make a fresh carafe for you.

36. Skip the small patties

Someone claiming to be a McDonald’s employee took to Reddit to claim that, if you avoid any menu item, it should be any of the burgers with small patties. They explained, “[Yeah]… the ones that come on your double cheeseburgers and Big Macs. Those things come off of the grill still red with blood and then we would shove them in the trays where they would stay for hours.”

35. Make sure you skip the caramel sauce

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McDonald’s-cashier-turned-make-up-artist Dessy Joseph revealed the secrets she learned while working at the fast-food joint to Insider in August 2020. One of her more shocking claims was that, on her first day, the staffer was warned that she shouldn’t order caramel shakes. Then, Joseph learned why. At the bottom of the gooey topping’s container, she claimed to have found mold spores growing all over the sweet stuff.

34. You can get the Happy Meal toy you want

McDonald’s sells a shocking number of Happy Meals each year. According to the company, more than 38,000 restaurants offer the kid-sized eats, and, altogether, they dole out one billion of them every year. One of the joys of buying a Happy Meal is that it comes with a toy. And, as one apparent former employee revealed, you can request which one you want.

33. The healthy options aren’t quite that

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You are probably going to struggle if you’re looking for lighter fare at McDonald’s. Let’s consider seemingly safe menu items – such as the chicken kale Caesar salad. That reportedly contains a whopping 730 calories, which is actually 50 more than the Double Big Mac. Then we have the oatmeal on the breakfast menu. Incredibly, this has as much sugar as a medium-sized Snickers bar. You’re better off scooping up healthy food from another establishment.

32. You can upgrade your apple pie

Apple pie is an American classic, and it tastes delicious on its own. But there’s one way to make the fruity dessert taste even better – topping it with a scoop of ice cream, of course. Surprisingly, you can have this combination when you dine at McDonald’s. Yes, one person purporting to have worked at the chain claimed on Reddit that they secretly serve the apple pie a la mode.

31. Your tea might’ve been brewed somewhere unsavory

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Nothing hits the spot on a hot summer day quite like a cold glass of iced tea. Still, you might want to skip out on McDonald’s version of the stuff. Former employee Dessy Joseph claimed that they sometimes brew their batches in mop buckets. They label the containers so, you know, no one uses the tea pail for cleaning. But it’s still an unappetizing thought.

30. The team can’t sit

You might think the person taking orders in the drive-thru lane can do their job while sitting down. Unfortunately for them – and all other McDonald’s employees – that’s not the case. Instead, the restaurant doesn’t allow team members to sit while on the job, according to a former staffer who spoke to Reader’s Digest.

29. Late for breakfast? Then you might want to order lunch instead

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The future of McDonald’s all-day breakfast offering is uncertain at the time of writing. So, if they go back to cutting off the menu at 10:30 a.m., then you should make a point to get there well ahead of that time. Otherwise, the staff might have already thrown the morning’s leftover fare into a bin, which they use to count the food that hasn’t sold and has, therefore, expired. And according to Delishably, if you order your McMuffin after they stop cooking, they might pluck an old one from that pile to give to you.

28. Your McRib might not be a McRib

McDonald’s employees sometimes don’t have time to cook McRibs. After all, in comparison to other items on the menu, these take a long time to prep. So, if you order one, you might get the simpler alternative instead. Delishably claims that some franchises will slather a regular hamburger patty in the sandwich’s sauce, then stack it up on a bun and pop it into a McRib box.

27. Yes, the staff members are talking about you

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Don’t expect McDonald’s staffers not to notice that you’re being rude to them. Not only will they take note of your behavior, but they’ll also talk about it with their co-workers. They have the tools to do so subtly, too. Employees apparently often use their headsets to discreetly discuss customers with one another.

26. There’s a reason why orders get lost in the fray

McDonald’s staffers are under quite a bit of pressure to get your order ready in time. The restaurant’s computer system decides how long it should take to prepare the food, ex-staffer Dessy Joseph claimed. And if the cooks fall behind, they might get in trouble. So, they’ll sometimes mark a meal as finished even when it’s not. And, while they’ll remember some of the items they have to go back and make, some inevitably get lost in the process.

25. Certain menu hacks can make your meal cheaper

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McDonald’s is famously inexpensive, but a few smart ordering change-ups can make your meal even cheaper. Here’s one example provided by a Reddit user: the Sausage Egg McMuffin cost $3.29 in their neck of the woods. But ordering a sausage muffin was $1.29 and a round egg on the side cost an additional $1. Putting the latter two together would give you the same breakfast for $1 less.

24. Your apple pie might not be freshly baked

That warm, crispy apple pie you’re dreaming about might not be fresh out of the oven. According to an apparent former employee divulging secrets via Reddit, the pastry’s hot temperature didn’t mean anything. The restaurant often sold old confections and passed them off as new. They wrote, “When they expire, we just slap on a new expiration date.”

23. Glove changes aren’t necessarily routine

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According to one Redditor, some staffers take their food hygiene routine pretty lackadaisically. One way in which this manifests is in their glove changes – or lack thereof. Supposedly, some staffers won’t change their protective gear after touching meat, which means cross-contamination would be a problem in lots of McDonald’s kitchens.

22. Complaints = free food

According to a TikTok user who previously worked at McDonald’s, customers who complained about their food got treated on their next visit. Supposedly, her Scottish branch of the fast-food joint would write down customers’ names and give them a free meal on their next visit. She didn’t go into specifics about how this worked or if this was a business-wide policy, though.

21. You help the employees when you pull up

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Maybe you’ve been to the drive-thru at McDonald’s and, once you reach the pick-up window, the staff asks you to pull into a parking spot while they prep your food. You’ve probably wondered why you can’t just wait there. Well, it turns out that the staff gets timed on how quickly they fulfill orders. A staffer called Bob told Mental Floss that there are even sensors to track when you pull up and when you drive off. So, if you pull into a parking spot, you give them time to finish up your meal without ruining their timing scores.

20. Every 24-hour McDonald’s will be cash only at some point during the day

In some places, you can get a burger round-the-clock thanks to 24-hour McDonald’s restaurants. But don’t expect to be able to swipe your card at any time during the day. One supposed staffer wrote on Reddit that the restaurants “are required to restart their system nightly,” which “results in a 30 [to] 90-minute window where we are cash only.”

19. You can order a grilled cheese

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It’s worth remembering that vegetarians have more options than just an ice cream or Egg McMuffin. It turns out that the staff can and will make you a grilled cheese, too. One McDonald’s employee named Andy told Mental Floss in 2019 that doing so wasn’t so easy, though. He explained, “Sometimes it can get a bit risky doing it because the bun toaster wasn’t designed to make grilled cheeses, so sometimes you get some burnt buns or cheese…”

18. The ice cream machine might not really be broken

If you visit McDonald’s regularly for ice cream, then you’ve learned just how often the machines seem to break down. Well, ex-staffer Dessy Joseph claimed via TikTok that the equipment isn’t always to blame when you can’t get a sweet treat. Instead, she claimed, staffers would say that the device stopped working when, really, they just didn’t want to refill it to make more milkshakes or ice cream. Ouch.

17. The staff can hear everything happening in your car

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As soon as your car arrives in the drive-thru lane, a McDonald’s employee’s headset switches on so they can take your order. But in the lag between your arrival and them greeting you, they can hear everything that’s happening in your vehicle. McDonald’s staffer Andy told Mental Floss, “… I do mean everything. Loud music, yelling at your kids to shut up, etc.”

16. Those aren’t fresh onions on your burger

A McDonald’s burger wouldn’t be complete without a hearty handful of chopped onions. But someone who claimed to be a produce manager for the eatery wrote on Quora that what you’re eating is “actually dehydrated onions. They come in these bags and they’re dumped into a five gallon bucket, then water is poured in and there’s a huge spoon that’s used to stir it.”

15. The staff members know your menu hacks, and they will charge accordingly

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Many of you will know that you can order certain items separately to make a cheaper meal. But don’t expect other menu hacks to go down as well. For example, staffers know about the “Poor Man’s Big Mac,” which is a McDouble with Mac sauce and extra greens. So, one apparent staffer wrote on Reddit, “We will upcharge you $0.30 for the Mac sauce and $0.20 to $0.30 for the shredded lettuce.”

14. You can always swap out your sauce

Perhaps one burger on the McDonald’s menu sounds perfect… except for the sauce on top of it. You don’t have to have your sandwich as-is when you stop into the golden arches, though. Staffers apparently don’t mind if you swap out one sauce for another. And this is even the case with a Big Mac, which comes with its signature, eponymous condiment.

13. There’s a time of day when food’s almost guaranteed to be fresh

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There’s nothing like a fresh carton of McDonald’s fries or a piping hot, melty cheeseburger. You can almost guarantee that you’ll get fresh food during the windows that the restaurants expect secret shoppers to come and evaluate them. One former employee claimed on Quora that they tend to fall from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m.

12. Avoid the breakfast burrito

Much of what you get at McDonald’s is cooked fresh, but that’s apparently not true of the breakfast burrito. The eggs get cooked in the microwave, according to someone on Reddit who said they had been an employee. After that, the wrap-ups tend to sit under the heating lamps for a while, since they’re not that popular of an order.

11. Skip the grilled chicken

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Apparently, employees don’t recommend you eat the grilled chicken sandwich. This menu option, like the breakfast burrito, proves unpopular with customers – so it sits around for a while and becomes pretty gross. McDonald’s employee Andy told Mental Floss, “That stuff has a supposed shelf life of 60 minutes in the heated cabinet. But it dries out so quickly that even if it’s within an acceptable time frame, it looks like burnt rubber and probably tastes like it, too.”

10. Your meal might’ve been dropped and re-served

To be fair, most former McDonald’s staffers report that their franchises were diligently cleaned. But a few employees have admitted that their outposts had less-than-stellar hygiene practices. One user wrote on Reddit, “Aside from your usual – serving food that was cooked hours and hours ago – many times, buns and nuggets would be dropped onto the floor, just to be picked up and served anyway.”

9. Employees don’t like Happy Meal toy requests

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You can ask for a specific Happy Meal toy, but know that the employee fielding your request is probably not happy about it. Assistant store manager Bob told Mental Floss, “I personally hate trying to dig through the toys looking for one specific one.” So, think twice before asking if you can have one particular plaything.

8. There’s a reason why menu items disappear over time

As a fast-food restaurant, McDonald’s has to deliver your meal with haste. As such, corporate has slashed many menu items over the years because they took too long to piece together. Former staffer Bob told Mental Floss, “If we have to stop to make something that has ten ingredients, it tends to slow things down.” Some of the fallen soldiers include the Smokehouse, McWraps and Clubhouse options.

7. Always take your food to-go

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Thinking of popping your McDonald’s onto a tray and sitting down to eat it? Think again. Former employee and TikTok user Joseph advised customers not to dine on the plastic trays. She said in a video that people do “disgusting things” with their trays – including “blowing boogers” into them. Even if the tray’s washed afterward, that’s pretty unappetizing to think about.

6. Stop asking for fries sans salt

You can get fresh fries at McDonald’s by asking for yours without salt. The ones sitting under the heating lamp will inevitably have it on them. Though staffers apparently hate it when you do this. Employee Andy told Mental Floss that they have to pour the fries onto a separate, salt-free baking sheet – a move so awkward that many of them hurt themselves in doing so. Instead, just request a fresh batch of fries so they can prep them in the salty, easy to use fry basin.

5. The drive-thru will always be faster

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We’ve all labored over the decision: should I wait in the long drive-thru lane, or should I just park and go in? Well, McDonald’s staffers say that you should go with option one. One apparent employee claimed on Reddit that “drive-thru is the priority” because the service in those lanes is timed. The user continued, “[It means] we have to focus much more on getting [the customers] in and out quickly.”

4. The milkshake machine gets very little love

That milkshake machine you see near the counter may be dirtier than you think. Someone claiming to be a staffer said on Reddit that they only scoured the equipment once each week. They did so by feeding water, soap and sanitizer into the device’s pipes.

3. Too many special requests and you’ll start to annoy people

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A change or two to your McDonald’s meal? The staff can handle that. What they don’t like is an excessive number of customizations, as that’ll slow down your meal’s prep. That’s because they have to label your order as a “special request,” according to one Reddit user. This means that cooks have to confirm the special order and slow down their entire cooking process.

2. Ask for a receipt if you want excellent service

McDonald’s employees know how to pinpoint a secret shopper. One person claiming to have been an employee told Reddit that these people typically come in during peak times, and they always ask for a receipt. So, if you want the high level of service provided to a suspected evaluator, be sure to ask for your receipt every time you visit the fast-food eatery. They might just treat you and your food better because of it.

1. If you want something freshly made, just ask

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Ask and you shall receive – that might be the best secret about McDonald’s. According to a Reddit user who said they worked there, if you want freshly cooked food, all you have to do is request it when you order. It may take a few minutes longer than getting something pre-made that has kept warm in a heated cabinet. But it’s always worth it for a crispy batch of fries and piping hot burger.

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