How McDonald’s Restaurants Have Changed Inside and Out

First McDonald's Franchise


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First McDonald's Franchise

Through The ‘Golden Arches’

Walk into your local McDonald’s, and head to the counter to order a meal. Well, you can, but it seems preferred that you place your order at a kiosk, pay by a cashless option and then dine within sleekly updated surroundings. Join us for a walk through some of this hamburger heaven’s changes since its 1950s start.

Related: Golden Arch-itecture: Grand and Bizarre McDonald's Around the World

Ray Kroc

At the Beginning

While today, the company boasts “billions served,” it wasn’t always that way. Ray Kroc bought the original McDonald’s from the McDonald brothers after visiting in 1954 and by the next year, he had opened the prototype for what would become a worldwide fast-food legend. That original restaurant, in San Bernardino, California, sold burgers for 15 cents in a building that featured the earliest incarnation of the golden arches, which would become the iconic McDonald’s logo.

Related: Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

Old Fort Huachuca
Wikimedia Commons

Drive-Thru History

As with any claim to being “first,” there are a few challengers, but it’s believed that the first McDonald’s drive-thru made its debut in 1975 in Arizona. It was at the Sierra Vista restaurant, near the military base Fort Huachuca, when a franchise owner cut a hole in the side of his restaurant that allowed customers to order food from behind the wheel. It was deemed necessary, as the military personnel were not allowed to be in uniform when off the post.

Related: Rude? Friendly? Here’s How Your Favorite Fast-Food Drive-Thru Ranks

Sausage Burrito McDonald's

Menu Explodes

For years, McDonald’s was known as the place for burgers, fries and shakes. Today, the ever-expanding menu includes hundreds of options with featured favorites including the Big Mac, Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich, Iced Coffee and a Sausage Burrito. Over time, options have included vegetarian selections, expanded baked goods, ice cream and more.

Related: New Fast-Food Items You Can Try This Month

McDonald's Combo Meal

Prices Are Up

Back in the day, stopping by McDonald’s was an inexpensive option. But thanks to inflation, the chain expects to boost costs 12% to 14% for the year, a higher hike than expected. Budget-conscious diners will note McDonald’s offers not only frequent promotions but also ongoing cost-cutting menu options such as Combo Meals and Dollar Menu items.

Related: The Best Value Meal Deals at Chains Across the Country

World Famous Fries McDonald's

What About the Fries?

McDonald’s (humbly) calls one of its top products “World Famous Fries.” It’s even trademarked. Customers over the years, though, have debated the changing taste of said fries. It’s not imagined, since the company has changed the oil, as well as tweaked ingredients and methods, over time.

Related: Why McDonald's Fries Used to Taste Better

McDonald's cardboard boxes with food
McDonald's cardboard boxes with food by Marco Verch Professional Photographer (CC BY)

The Clamshell Sets Sail

Opening the McDonald’s “clamshell” box to reveal a Big Mac was a childhood treat. Who knew that the packaging that made the experience so exciting was bad for the environment? In 1990, the company announced its foam food packaging would be replaced with paper; by 2012, its use in beverages was also gone. It was in 2018 that McDonald’s announced it would end the remaining (and limited) use of foam in any of its packaging by the end of that year.

McDonald's Egg McMuffin

Breakfast, Now Served

It seems a given that you can pop into McDonald’s for pancakes or the classic Egg McMuffin, but breakfast was not in the original offerings. It was actually introduced nearly 20 years after McDonald’s first opened. Fans of the morning menu have no doubt noticed the pandemic has curtailed the “all-day breakfast” options, at least for now.

Related: The Best Fast Food Breakfast Deals in June

McCaffe Latte

For Coffee Lovers

Sure, you can grab coffee at McDonald’s, but the company has also branched out both here and around the world to offer its own signature coffee shops, the McCafé, and sell its own coffee for home brewing.

McDonald's Ice Cream
McDonald's Ice Cream by Alpha (CC BY-NC)

A Shaky Standby

Sometimes, a nagging problem just doesn’t go away. The fact that many McDonald’s ice cream/shake machines are often out of service has become a bit of a cliché. But Reader’s Digest offered a bit of an explanation: The ice cream machines take a long time to clean and up to four hours to sanitize – plus it has to be done every single day. During cleaning, the machines can’t make ice cream, either.

Related: McDonald’s Sued For $900M Over Ice Cream Machines

Morgan Spurlock
Ethan Miller/Staff/Getty

A ‘Super Size’ Problem

Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary “Super Size Me,” which chronicled what happened to his body after a 30-day diet restricted to McDonald’s food (let’s just say it wasn’t pretty), was a PR nightmare for the company. People were suddenly much more aware of what they were eating. It wasn’t long before supersizing was no longer an option offered at the chain.

Related: The Unhealthiest Fast-Food Breakfasts

Apple Slices McDonald's

Health in Mind

No one in decades past could have imagined that you’d go to McDonald’s to have yogurt, grilled chicken or a salad, but healthier options have become part of the chain’s offerings, though the pandemic has impacted the availability of certain menu items.

Soda machine McDonald's
Soda machine McDonald's by Sarah Gilbert (CC BY-NC-SA)

Self-Serve Soda With Pandemic Limits

Small soda or large? That was long a consideration when ordering but the self-serve soda machine made that question for in-restaurant dining unnecessary. After all, you order the small and simply get as many refills as you want. Unfortunately, the pandemic may have ended that perk, since many restaurants abandoned self-service stations as a safety measure and have not returned to pre-COVID status.

Related: 25 Chains Where Drink Refills Are Free

Green Chilli Naan McDonald's
McDonald's India

Delicacies Around the World

With many people resuming travel after a pandemic hiatus, they may be encountering McDonald’s locations around the world — and noticing some unusual choices. Though international selections change frequently, some memorable selections have been a bowl of melted cheddar cheese for dipping burgers (Brazil), taro-filled dessert pies (China and Hong Kong), paprika-spiced cheese fries (Egypt), green chilli aloo naan (India), and a chicken “pizza” burger (Finland).

Related: 25 Unusual and Wonderful McDonald's International Menu Favorites

McRib McDonald's
McRib McDonald's by Jerry Huddleston (CC BY)

Listening to the Public

Thanks to a Twitter account devoted to what customers want the company to “bring back _____,” there’s certainly a way to voice what you miss, from the McRib (which often makes reappearances) to fried apple pies (oh, the crispiness) and orange drink. Some missteps, like the McLobster or the McHot Dog, remain abandoned.

Related: Fast Food Items Overdue for a Comeback

Mariah Carey
Dia Dipasupil/Staff/Getty
Birthday Party McDonald's
Birthday Party McDonald's by Rona Proudfoot (CC BY-SA)

Playtime Is Over

Arranging a child’s birthday party at the local McDonald’s was a longtime tradition. Playing in ball pits or the indoor and/or outdoor playground, as parents patiently watch from the sidelines, was another. Well, those days are pretty much just memories, as the restaurant has transitioned away from the child-focused amenities.

Related: Ball Pits and Other Things We Miss at Fast-Food Restaurants

Happy Meal McDonald's

Speaking of Kids…

Low-fat milk, apple slices… the options for the Happy Meal for kids have certainly adjusted to the times. Sure, these popular selections for the youngest McDonald’s customers now have an eye on healthy eating – but still contain a “giveaway,” otherwise known as a themed toy.

iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus/Getty1203852351

What’s a Hamburglar?

Kids today likely have no idea who The Hamburglar is – or, more accurately, was. Ronald McDonald may remain a semi-visible character in the world of McDonald’s marketing, but characters in Ronald’s circle used to include such memorable characters as The Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Grimace and Captain Crook, among others. Do McDonald’s youngest fans realize what they’re missing?

Happy Meal
Happy Meal by yuan2003 (CC BY-NC)

Commemorative Items

Remember the themed McDonald’s drinking glasses of the 1970s or the Beanie Babies given away to kids as part of the Happy Meal in the late ’90s? Sure, there are still little toys for kids in today’s Happy Meals (often tied to popular movies and programs), but the excitement of yesteryear’s freebies seems to have waned. Those who held onto the giveaways may do well on the secondary market, though.

Related: 30 Collectibles That Are Now Worthless

Singer Pink
Rich Fury/Staff/Getty

Rank and File

Hands up if you ever worked at McDonald’s. CBS News once shared figures from “Fast Food Nation” that proved one in eight American workers have once been employed by McDonald’s. The list includes singer Pink, talk-show host Jay Leno and actress Sharon Stone among the celebrities who reportedly toiled away at the Golden Arches.

Related: 25 Celebs Whose First Job Was Worse Than Yours

McDonald's Chicago Flagship
McDonald's Chicago Flagship by Jrbarc! (CC BY-SA)

Rock ‘n’ Nope

The flagship McDonald’s in Chicago once rocked. It was not only a restaurant but also a bona fide tourist attraction, one of the most famous McDonald’s in the world. The appeal? It was nicknamed “The Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s” since its 1983 opening (and through a 2005 renovation) for its pop culture- and rock-themed memorabilia displays. Unfortunately, all that was abandoned after a 2017 closing for remodeling, though the remodel is pretty cool, too.

McDonald's restaurant
Justin Sullivan/Staff/Getty

Tasty Intelligence

In 2018, McDonald’s announced a $6 billion plan to modernize its U.S. restaurants (which today number nearly 14,000), with planned updates to furniture, décor, exteriors and kiosks. The menu boards and drive-thru lanes were going digital and parking spots would be designated for those ordering via mobile app. The chain also entered a partnership with IBM in 2021 to automate drive-thru lanes using artificial intelligence.

Related: 23 Surprising Things You Didn't Know About McDonald's

McDonald's Paris
Edward Berthelot/Contributor/Getty

Curb Appeal

France was the first country to showcase the new McDonald’s design aesthetic, a step to compete better with the “fast-casual” dining trend. These changes came to America and include updated rooflines, colorways and more as the restaurant is reimagined for grown-ups.

McDonald's interior
McDonald's interior by Michael Rivera (CC BY-SA)

Chic Eats

What you see from the outside hints at what’s inside. Gone are the playful-yet-cheap-looking plastics and wildly bright colors. Interiors of today’s McDonald’s interiors often feature wood and neutrals, moveable seating (no longer bolted down) and more. There are design concepts ranging from “Allegro” to “Fresh & Vibrant” to “Living Room.” Families are still a priority, but the décor reflects a move to attract a wider audience looking for a more sophisticated atmosphere.

McDonald's Switzerland
McDonald's Switzerland by McDonald's Switzerland (CC BY-NC-ND)

May the Kiosk Take Your Order?

The first time someone encounters the ordering kiosk, it might be daunting. But regulars know it’s the preferred way to not only place an order but customize it and then pay by a cashless option. Restaurants do, however, still allow you to pay by cash (and often order) at the traditional counter, for those reluctant to move with the times.

McDonald's in Raleigh
McDonald's in Raleigh by Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (CC BY-SA)

At Your Service

Depending on where you are, some McDonald’s restaurants offer table service. A waitress won’t come and take your order, but you place your order and either wait to pick it up – or have it delivered to you … at a table.

McDonald's Curbside Pickup
McDonald's Curbside Pickup by Valentina kalinichenko (CC BY-SA)

Curbside Pickup and Delivery

Like other restaurants that want to keep up with customer preferences (and, more recently, COVID safety precautions), McDonald’s has integrated its app to enable curbside pickups and also works with delivery services so you can have your Big Mac dropped at your front door. And, the company’s also keeping up on a deeper level, billing itself as, “more than the leading global foodservice retailer.” Its corporate site notes its commitment to “four areas that matter most” which includes food quality, environmental concerns, community, and inclusion.

Szechuan dipping sauce
Wikimedia Commons

App Exclusive

There are always promotional offerings and limited-edition items at McDonald’s, but one earlier this year created quite a buzz — the return of the wildly popular Szechuan dipping sauce. But this time, there was a twist, designed to heighten the hype. It was available exclusively for mobile app orders.

McDonald's Hot Coffee
McDonald's Hot Coffee by David Goehring (CC BY)

Crazy Lawsuits

Used to be you ate your McDonald’s food and went home. If something was wrong, you talked to the manager and most often, it was corrected on the spot. Reflecting the tenor of the times, McDonald’s has faced a number of unusual lawsuits ranging from the infamous “hot coffee” case of the 1990s to a 2012 case when a former Nevada employee claimed that the low wages she earned forced her to moonlight… as a prostitute.

Related: Most Unbelievable Lawsuits Filed Against Big Companies