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Arch Deluxe: McDonald's Biggest Mistake

Giphy Images.

I started working at McDonald’s in April 1996. I was nearing the end of my junior year of high school and had recently gotten my driver’s license. I didn’t even intend to get a job there when I sat down with my lunch. They put an application in front of me and I was so bored that I filled it out. The store manager interviewed me while I was eating my Extra Value Meal (#2 with hamburgers instead of cheeseburgers. It was $2.99 back then) and hired me on the spot. As you can probably tell, they were quite selective.

My first week there, I spent time watching scratchy VHS tapes on the do’s and don'ts around working on the grill and anti-harassment messages that I am sure are on the wrong side of history. But the only new thing at that restaurant that anyone cared about was not me but a new sandwich coming next month: The Arch Deluxe.

The Arch Deluxe was intended to be the first step of a whole path for McDonald’s where they focus on getting adults to get excited about McDonald’s again. It was advertised as “The Burger with the Grown-Up Taste”

Bringing the Arch Deluxe to McDonald’s was a pretty big shift (and pain in the ass) for restaurants. The Arch Deluxe had a unique bun so you had to find a place for fourth type of bun (behind the hamburger, Big Mac and Quarter Pound buns) as well as its own mustard-mayo sauce and Spanish onions. Local franchises would have to buy these items from McDonald’s headquarters directly but that was nothing compared to what the company itself was paying for marketing. They spent over $100 million on marketing alone for the Arch Deluxe.

In May of 1996, they released the Arch Deluxe…and no one cared. Not even initially. The few people that did try it didn’t like the sauce and didn’t understand why it was more expensive than the Big Mac or Quarter Pounder. There were so many lunch rushes where dozens of Quarter Pounders and Big Macs would fly out the door and you’d have the same four Arch Deluxes just sitting there in the heating bin untouched for the whole hour.

But the Arch Deluxe line wasn’t just the burger option. They replaced the Chicken Sandwich and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches with the more expensive Crispy Chicken Deluxe, Grilled Chicken Deluxe and Fish Filet Deluxe. This aggravated customers who liked the older (and cheaper) options better. The Fish-O-Filet was especially popular with elderly customers who would get that and a senior citizen priced coffee all for under $2.50. Now the Fish Filet Deluxe was more than that alone.

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This is Anthony Selvaggio and he was a fine dining chef in Chicago who was hired as McDonald’s head chef in 1994. He spent almost a year working specifically on the Arch Deluxe and while the burger was a giant failure, I don’t think it’s entirely his fault. The marketing ploy of trying to appeal to adults was timed wrong. This was the beginning of the casual dining chains beginning to really rise up like Applebee’s and Olive Garden. People already had a mindset of what McDonald’s was and even $100 million of marketing wasn’t going to change that.

The Arch Deluxe came in like a lion but left like a lamb. It was quietly pushed off the menus in most stores in 1998 and 1999 and by 2000, it was gone from all restaurants. I was still at my McDonald’s when they took it off the menu and I don’t recall more than a couple people wondering where it went. It was a distant memory in months. 

I fuck up all the time. I’m the guy who sold myself on Barstool Idol with Texas Poop Hold ‘Em. But everyone fucks up, even McDonald’s. So I have this hanging in my living room to remind me of that. McDonald’s has screwed up before (the McDLT!) and will screw up again. So will I. But people still want fast food. So, we wake up and try to do better today. Perseverance is truly the grown-up taste. 

That last line reads more disgusting that I had envisioned it in my head. It sounds like the mantra of a sex criminal. I don't know how to end this blog now. Just don't be afraid to fuck up or something inspiring like that.