I’m a millennial. I’ll own it. I do typical millennial things — like shopping at Whole Foods for weird protein bars, and living in a modern loft. In the morning, I ride my bike to a coffee shop where I work with headphones on. You know the deal. So when I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal claiming that only one in five millennials had ever eaten a Big Mac, I wasn’t actually surprised. I had never eaten a Big Mac, after all. Why would my peers have bothered?
Which got me thinking, what is it about the Big Mac that keeps millennials away? Why had I never gone out of my way to order the famous sandwich off the menu? It wasn’t like I had anything against McDonald’s itself — I am, after all, one of the millions of suckers for the all-day breakfast menu. I’d just never thought to order the chain’s signature sandwich. When I was a kid, it seemed way too big for my little stomach. I preferred the five-piece McNuggets that came with the tiny bag of fries and the toy. By the time I graduated to the adult menu, I was still stuck on the chicken, preferring to order the McChicken. And so I embarked on my own quest — both for answers, and for my first Big Mac.
The nearest McDonald’s to my apartment was the one actually located in the D Hotel, on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. Like the millennial I am, I hitched my canvas backpack onto my back and walked the quarter mile down the road.
The ambiance inside the nearly-deserted restaurant was lacking, that can hardly be blamed on McDonald’s — it was, after all, located inside a casino. The overall look of the store was very clean, with an entire wall made up of slanted glass panels. Aside from the excessive bass line, it was almost the ideal McDonald’s experience. Almost. You see, I immediately noticed that there were two things distinctly lacking: WiFi, and outlets.
I’d brought my dying computer along with, intending to work as I ate, but in the entire, glistening restaurant, there wasn’t so much as a single outlet for me to plug in my gear — and even worse, there wasn’t a WiFi network for me to do my work on. I was stuck working on limited battery, without the internet. Horror of millennial horrors.
Which led me to come to the conclusion that culprit #1 of McDonald’s Big Mac problem (a harbinger of the overall McDonald’s millennial problem) is the simple fact that there’s nothing for people to plug into. Sure, the bag is full of QR codes and urgings to download the McDonald’s app, but in actuality, the stores themselves just aren’t relevant. Compare that with Starbucks, who has added phone charges to most tables. Sure, most McDonald’s have WiFi, but the vibe isn’t quite right (something they seem to be actively working on).
I ordered my sandwich and calculated how long I could work before my laptop shut down on me.
The Big Test
Upon finding a seat at one of the outlet-less booths, I opened my Big Mac box for observation. The sandwich was pretty much as I’d expected — similar to the advertisements, only slightly more sad. The two all-beef patties looked like they’d been gone over with a rolling pin more than a few times. The lettuce was of the shredded iceberg variety. I was surprised that there was one piece of cheese and not two.
But really, the biggest enigma to me was the extra bun. Why, McDonald’s? Why the extra bun? I don’t need the carbs. I’m more than happy to have a double-patty cheeseburger.
Of course, customers want innovation. And perhaps the triple bun stack was an innovation back when Jim Delligatti created the hit sandwich back in 1967. (Actually, Business Insider reports that the bun is key to avoiding the “meat overload” problem that plagues double-patty sandwiches, but when a single patty is half as thick as a normal hamburger patty, is that really an issue?)
Observation finished, I was ready to dig into my very first Big Mac. With trepidation and excitement I raised the sandwich to my lips. It tasted…like a cheeseburger. I took another bite. Okay — it tasted like a McDonald’s cheeseburger, except slightly more tangy, due to the Thousand Island-like Big Mac sauce that reportedly took Delligatti two years to perfect.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad burger. I kept going back for more bites as I typed away at my rapidly fading laptop. But somewhere around the two-thirds mark, things began to get very difficult for me. All of the sudden, ingredients began slipping around on the greased bun. The burger fell apart in my hands as the patties attempted their grand escape. My final bite was of a piece of hamburger, wrapped up a spare piece of middle bun, taco-style.
While the main objective of my mission to Fremont Street was to try a Big Mac, a second objective was to collect opinions from others on the millenial/Big Mac consumption problem. Halfway through my burger, I approached two millennial-aged girls wearing the same glasses in different colors and asked what they thought about the question. One had eaten a Big Mac before, one had not. The one who hadn’t eaten the Big Mac speculated that our generation’s lack of interest in the sandwich was because of marketing — specifically, the fact that when it was first marketed, it was a big deal, but now it’s old hat.
“What do you guys usually like to order off the menu, then?” I asked.
“Honestly,” said one of the girls (the one with the tortoise shell glasses), “I get the McDouble, because it’s cheap.”
A valid point — I paid nearly five dollars for my sandwich alone. If you’re looking to make a meal out of the Big Mac, it’ll cost you even more than that. And when your only source of income comes through your Etsy shop of artisanal herb-infused soap, every penny counts.
Others I talked to had other ideas. Several women reported that the burger just wasn’t appealing to them, including one who said, “It just seemed excessive when I was younger, and now I know better. It’s like, 1500 calories.” (Actually 563 calories, but who’s counting?)
Another woman speculated that the millennial snub was simply due to the amount of fast food options we have today, versus when the Big Mac was originally launched. And a few chalked it up to the health-conscious craze that’s in full swing for millennials.
“It’s just a stupid sandwich,” said one. “I think it’s only still around because it’s a namesake.”
Another notable observation: none of the people I spoke with who had actually eaten the Big Mac reported liking it. A few complained about the sauce, calling it both nasty and weird. One told me, “The piece of bread in the middle is dumb and gets in the way of the meat and cheese,” and reported that, when she actually does get fast food, she wants to enjoy it, and tries to patronize local fast food restaurants that use higher-quality ingredients.
The conclusion: the outlook is grim for the Big Mac.The sandwich is both outdated and extravagant in the eyes of us health-conscious millennial customers, and also, we now have more choice than ever when it comes to where we spend our hard-earned pennies. And if we can’t have internet access and plugged-in devices, why even bother?
(Don’t worry, we millenials are also the ultimate lovers of nostalgia, so I’m sure we’ll bring it back one day.)
All that said, the importance of the McDonald’s breakfast can’t be overlooked. Try as they like to incorporate fresh ingredients and customization into their menu, the humble, market demolishing all-day breakfast might just be the thing that saves the Golden Arches in the end. (Especially with Ronald McDonald in hiding.)
Will I start ordering Big Macs now that I’ve been formally introduced to the burger? Decidedly, no. One was more than enough for me — I bought a second sandwich to eat when I arrived home, just to be able to compare a fresh Big Mac to a more aged one, but now, hours later, it’s still there in its bag. The thought of facing a second Big Mac makes my stomach gurgle, and not in a good way. For now, I think I’ll just stick to my McGriddles and breakfast hash browns. Preferably eaten while plugged into an outlet and working online and being a typical entitled 20-something.