The real reason McDonald's ice cream machines always seem to be broken

Being a fan of McDonald's ice cream isn't easy. You get your hopes up for a cone and cruise through the drive-thru, only to be told the ice cream machine is broken — yet again. It's a problem nearly every McDonald's customer has likely experienced once or twice… or 100 times. 

And when the ice cream machine is down, it doesn't take just one item off the menu — it pretty much obliterates the dessert options at the Golden Arches. Without a functioning ice cream machine, there are no ice cream cones, no sundaes, and none of your beloved McFlurries. All that's left to quench your sweet tooth are pies and cookies, and that's not going to do anything for someone craving some of their cold, creamy, soft serve goodness. 

The problem has gotten so bad that fans are turning to social media to decry to lack of the cold dessert. In 2016, it was the most common service-related complaint to McDonald's on Twitter, and if anything, the problem has only gotten worse since then.

The fast food giant has been serving up some form of ice cream since its humble beginnings way back in 1940, however, the sundae wasn't introduced to the menu until 1978. Considering that soft serve is used in more than 60 percent of its dessert menu, a broken ice cream machine would seem to be a real problem for the Golden Arches.  So why then would McDonald's allow their ice cream machines to seemingly be broken so often?

Apparently, there's a perfectly good adequate reason that McDonald's ice cream machines seem to be broken almost more often than they're working. They're not broken.

Turns out, the soft serve machines must go through a laborious cleaning cycle that can last hours. The process isn't simply wiping down the machine, but involves an 11-step process that includes using a sanitizer/warm water mix to clean seven removable parts. There are also two irremovable parts that must be scrubbed for at least 60 seconds, before the entire outside of the machine is wiped down with a sanitized towel. 

During this labor-intensive process, the machines are unable to serve up any frosty goodness and if the crew is busy serving customers, cooking food, or cleaning other parts of the restaurant, the machine sits unassembled and inoperable. Also, if they've just cleaned and reassembled the machine, some employees claim there's a good chance they'll tell customers it's down, just to avoid going through the process again. Can you really blame them?

The soft serve machines also go through a four-hour heat cleaning cycle every night to get rid of any bacteria lingering on the inside — and some employees may start that process early to get a head start on closing up. If that's the case, you're out of luck. Not to mention, many McDonald's are now open 24-hours, meaning there's really no time to clean the machine without disappointing a few ice cream-loving customers. 

Multiple McDonald's employees have backed up the reason for the out-of-service ice cream machines on Reddit. Sure, it's a bummer, but would you really want to eat ice cream from a dirty machine?

To McDonald's credit, they do seem to be aware of the issue and in March 2017 revealed a plan to replace the old ice cream machines with newer versions that have fewer parts to clean and would be easier for employees to maintain. 

Unfortunately, customers are still waiting for those magical machines to materialize. In November 2017, a McDonald's representative told Business Insider that while the company had identified which new machines would work best, they had yet to actually purchase the machines and move them into stores.

Of course, the problem with the ice cream machines isn't always that they need cleaned. Every now and then, when an employee tells you that it's broken, it actually is. According to The Wall Street Journal, many of the machines are old and temperamental, which makes them prone to breaking down. Richard Adams, a consultant to McDonald's franchisees, told WSJ that he once conducted a survey that showed that 25 percent of McDonald's restaurants weren't selling ice cream because the machines were truly broken. 

Not surprisingly, McDonald's doesn't seem to be in a hurry to fix or replace the machines that are frequently breaking, probably because the new machines are (eventually) on the way. 

Either way, McDonald's should be on the lookout for a permanent fix — or else they stand to lose a ton of business. McFlurrys alone represented nearly 14 percent of McDonald's dessert items ordered by adults as of 2017, according to research firm Technomic Inc. 

In response to the perpetual lack of ice cream at the Golden Arches, one frustrated customer went so far as to develop an app to address the issue. Raina McLeod created the free app called Ice Check solely for the purpose of warning customers about McDonald's locations where the ice cream machine was on the fritz.

Rival fast food giant Wendy's took an opportunity to throw some serious shade at McDonald's during a 2018 Ask Me Anything Reddit session with the company's social media team. Wendy's couldn't help but take the bait when a Redditor asked why McDonald's ice cream machines were always broken. "Same reason they serve round burgers, cause they cut corners," Wendy's replied. Burn!

Whether the ice cream machine is truly broken or it's just too clean to actually use, the availability of soft serve at McDonald's is always a gamble. Cross your fingers the new machines arrive sometime soon — or, you know, get a Frosty.