As you order breakfast at McDonald’s, an employee ties up a trash bag. A dour manager hears out a stressed-out employee. Cashiers shout, "Can I help who’s next?" Someone mops the floor. A machine starts beeping. A guy walks in and starts hawking bus tours. No one stops him. A second set of beeps, this one more staccato, starts ringing out from a separate machine. The kitchen now sounds like the ICU at a local trauma center. You see workers assemble things, move things, and wrap things. You do not see anyone cook things. There is no aroma of coffee. No sight of bubbling eggs. No hiss of cold bacon on a hot grill. You slide your credit card, you listen to the beeps, and your 11-item order appears two minutes later, wrapped and bagged, a miracle of culinary manufacturing at this factory of a restaurant. And then you get home and realize no one gave you syrup for your pancakes.
McDonald’s, the cultural mainstay that can evoke, at times, a dystopian culinary future edited out of Disney's Carousel of Progress, is the world’s largest fast-food hamburger chain. But since it also hawks an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink menu of salads, shakes, limited-edition barbecue ribs, chicken nuggets, too many chicken sandwiches to list, wraps, fries, fried fish, fried pies, assorted coffee drinks, egg burritos, yogurt, Go-Gurt (don’t ask), and a slew of other items, McDonald’s is perhaps better thought of as one of the world’s most ubiquitous all-day diners, albeit minus good food, minus good coffee, and minus a soul. It’s a descriptor that’s all the more fitting now that Mickey D’s expands into that cherished realm of the all-day diner: breakfast whenever you want it.
All-day breakfast is encouraging because it represents the least-terrible meal at McDonald’s.
The goal of all-day breakfast is simple: help offset the chain’s slumping sales. The publicly-traded, Illinois-based corporation has had a rough go of it as consumers trade up to Shake Shack for burgers, to Sweetgreen for salads, to Chipotle for burrito bowls, to any local coffee shop for quality brew, and to other more fast-casual restaurants offering more refined wares and thoughtfully-sourced products on narrowly-focused menus – often for a few dollars more. McDonald’s, despite its decision to drop chickens treated with human antibiotics and its plans to adopt cage-free eggs, isn’t quite ready to get expensive (or focus on just a single product or two). But by doubling down on its dominance of breakfast — Taco Bell and Starbucks are trying to chip away at that — McDonald’s can keep its sights tightly focused on the budget-minded consumer. Breakfast items command lower prices than dinner at McDonald’s, yet account for up to 40 percent of the chain’s domestic profits.
It’s all quite neat if you’re interested in the financial side of things — and you should be, if your 401K has McDonald’s shares. But more practically, for the consumer, the roll out of all-day breakfast is encouraging because it represents the least terrible meal at McDonald’s. Basically, it’s easier to screw up beef patties than it is to screw up eggs. Of course, none of this means you should actually eat there. If you live in New York City, it’s likely your McDonald’s is located nearby a late-night bodega, whose short order cooks can provide better-tasting breakfasts for just a buck or two more. And quite frankly, I can’t think of a single time outside of New York where McDonald’s was the only affordable breakfast option, at any time of day, with the exception of a highway rest stop. And even then beef jerky with Red Bull will likely be an equally compelling call.
That all said, some of you will still visit the chain anyway. So here’s a ranked list of McDonald’s breakfast items, from best to worst.