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What is Up With Those McDonald’s Adult Happy Meals and Why Do Employees Hate Them So Much?

The limited-time promotion may be a viral hit among TikTok users, but staff are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Many generational experts have made the claim that Millennials can’t grow up, and it looks like McDonald’s has found a way to capitalize on that arrested development. 

Last week, the burger chain announced that 90’s babies were in for a nostalgic treat with the release of the brand’s first Adult Happy Meals. In collaboration with Cactus Plant Flea Market, a hip fashion streetwear company, McDonald’s rolled out its Cactus Plant Flea Market Meal Box, which offers guests collectible figures of McDonald’s mascots Grimace, the Hamburglar, or Birdie, or one of a CPFM original character, Cactus Buddy. The promotion is only available until the end of the month.

“One day you ordered a Happy Meal for the last time and you didn’t even know it,” the chain said in a Facebook post announcing the promotion.

Almost immediately, the Adult Happy Meals cultivated feverous demand amongst customers. Videos of people just showing off their haul on Tiktok are regularly getting millions of views, and sites like Poshmark and eBay already have dozens of listings of the toys at significantly marked up prices. While that may be good news for McDonald’s, many restaurant staff members are reporting that the ultra-popular promotion has been a nightmare to work with behind the scenes. 

“We literally just came off the ‘buy one get one for a dollar’ and we were swamped with Big Mac meals,” one anonymous worker posted to Reddit. “Now with this we have to literally stockpile them to survive a rush. I hate it.”

The limited-time availability may account for some of this unexpected frenzy. That, and Cactus Plant Flea Market’s hypebeast-adjacent popularity due to its association with artists like Kanye West and Travis Scott.

But it's not just the demand that is causing headaches for employees. According to staff members on Reddit, the Adult Happy Meal orders are also much more complex to fulfill than the typical Happy Meals for children. Customers need to order a Big Mac or a box of 10 chicken nuggets if they want to receive the precious collectibles. As a result, massive orders are coming in left and right, both through the mobile app and the drive-thru, as guests aim to get their hands on as many of the toys as possible.

On top of that, the burger chain is also rewarding people who order the Happy Meal through its app by automatically entering them for the chance to win free weekly merchandise, much to the dismay of many employees, who previously expressed how difficult it is to keep up with both in-store and mobile orders during limited time offers. 

“We had a feeling the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box would be big… and leading up to the launch, we prepped crew with training and resources in anticipation of higher traffic in restaurants,” McDonald’s USA said in a statement. “After just a few days, the excitement we’re seeing from fans has been nothing short of incredible. Our restaurant crew members are the best in the business, and we appreciate everything they’re doing to serve customers during this limited-time promotion.” 

This isn’t the first time McDonald’s underestimated the demand around a promotion. In 2021, the chain released a Pokémon card promotion that ended up being a boon for scalpers. A 2017 collab with “Rick and Morty” to reintroduce Szechuan Sauce to the menu resulted in a supply shortage and outrage online.

McDonald’s had been seeing increased traffic even prior to the recent promotion. According to the foot traffic data firm, visits to the burger giant rose 4.7% year over year in July and 3.1% in August, vastly outpacing most other fast-food competitors. This may be due to inflationary pressures and customers looking for more affordable options — a trend that has helped McDonald’s thrive in previous periods of economic downturns.

With such a tight labor market, this Adult Happy Meals situation is a perfect encapsulation of the challenge restaurant brands find themselves in today — how to roll out critical and complex promotions without it coming at the expense of staff. Though there has been progress, the jobs report released last week indicates a pandemic-fueled labor shortage is still very much a reality for the restaurant industry.