A Wall Street Journal report says the Federal Trade Commission has questions for franchise owners who've tried to correct problems with soft-serve machines themselves.
Advertisement

If you type the words "McDonald's ice cream machine" into the Google search bar, it immediately recommends some related phrases like "McDonald's ice cream machine broken," "McDonald's ice cream machine always broken," and "McDonald's ice cream machine broken memes." That probably isn't great if you're a McDonald's franchise owner, and it's even less great if you're craving a McFlurry like crazy right now.

Apparently, even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has seen some of those "McBroken" memes; The Wall Street Journal reports that the agency has reached out to franchisees to try to gain some insight and information regarding those chronically out-of-service ice cream machines. The outlet reports that the letters the FTC sent are part of a larger "right to repair" inquiry into whether a number of manufacturers have hampered owners' attempts to make repairs to certain products.

Mcdonald's McFlurry in a Mcdonald's restaurant
Credit: Shutterstock

"The FTC wants to know how McDonald's reviews suppliers and equipment, including the ice cream machines, and how often restaurant owners are allowed to work on their own machines, according to a person familiar with FTC conversations with franchisees," the Journal explained.

The digital ice cream machines that more than 13,000 McDonald's restaurants use are manufactured by the Taylor Company, and those particular machines are crucial because they can be used to make both soft serve sundaes and McFlurry milkshakes. Unfortunately, that versatility makes them complicated to clean (they're taken apart and put through that process every two weeks) and to service, because every repair has to be conducted by one of Taylor's certified technicians. 

Two years ago, a startup called Kytch released a device that McDonald's workers could use to diagnose and repair the Taylor machines — and neither Taylor nor McDonald's corporate were into that idea. McDonald's allegedly warned its operators that the Kytch Solution Device could "cause serious human injury" and Taylor allegedly tried to acquire its own Kytch device so they could analyze how it... does what it does.

Kytch has since filed a lawsuit against Taylor, and a judge sided with the startup, issuing a temporary restraining order and requiring Taylor to turn over any Kytch devices that it may have gotten its hands on.

But the lawsuit, the Kytch device, and the alleged FTC inquiries are all pieces of the same right-to-repair puzzle. A McDonald's spokesperson told The Hill that the company had "no reason to believe" that it was being investigated by the FTC. "Nothing is more important to us than delivering on our high standards for food quality and safety, which is why we work with fully vetted partners that can reliably provide safe solutions at scale," the company said.

Franchise owners just seem to want their ongoing ice cream issues to be resolved, one way or another. "We are tired of being the butt of late night jokes," the National Owners Association wrote in a May message to McDonald's owners. "So are our customers and crews."

Those inadvertently snarky Google suggestions aren't helping either.