This Is What McDonald's Menu Looked Like In The 1980s

We love the '80s (even when it "Strikes Back" or comes in "3D"). We're not still teasing our bangs with Ozone-destroying amounts of aerosol hairspray by any means. But, just because we're not still preoccupied with 19 (...19...19) 85 doesn't mean we aren't often eager to revisit the Brat Pack-dominated decade. After all, you don't need to be the subject of a random mid-2000s pop song to be enticed by the warm embrace of 1980s nostalgia or the bevy of '80s-born glories still worth celebrating.

Be it the "Back to the Future" trilogy (at least the first two films), classic sitcoms that showed us that smile again, or McDonald's commercials starring Mac Tonight, the era was filled with culture-defining touchstones. Of course, if you're curious about what life was like during the 1980s, simply reminiscing about the decade may not be that illuminating. For instance, the mere mention of a nightmare-inducing McDonald's mascot explains very little about what the fast food conglomerate's menu looked like in the 1980s.

To be sure, ordering at a McDonald's restaurant in the '80s wouldn't be entirely alien to a 2020s Mickey D's customer, though it might arch a (golden) eyebrow or two. But, seeing how this is our article (and our dreams)? Nothing's going to stop us now ... from discussing the differences between the menu of three-plus decades ago versus today. Without further ado, this is what McDonald's menu looked like in the 1980s.

The most expensive menu item might have been a 20-piece order of Chicken McNuggets

It's difficult to imagine a person willing to label any McDonald's menu item as reasonably priced in 2023, including a 20-piece order of Chicken McNuggets. Of course, we don't expect the average McDonald's consumer would predict that the same 20-piece McNugget would be the most expensive product sold under the golden arches. But, if you hopped in a time machine (made from a DeLorean, naturally) back to a McDonald's during certain times in the 1980s? You'd find the costliest item was the largest size order of the then-relatively new Chicken McNuggets.

To be perfectly honest, we weren't able to find any sort of comprehensive list of McDonald's menus year-by-year — meaning we can't say whether the 20-piece Chicken McNugget remained at the top of the restaurant's food price chain from its 1983 introduction until the 1990s. For a period of time, at least, an order of 20 Chicken McNuggets was the most expensive menu item and it wasn't particularly close.

After all, as evidenced by an early-to-mid '80s McDonald's menu picture on Reddit, a 20-piece McNugget cost more than twice as much as the next priciest item (a Quarter Pounder with cheese) at one point during the decade, coming in at $3.90. We may not know how long this price difference lasted, but it stands as a fascinating relic of the 1980s either way.

Customers had to pick and choose menu items to create their own value meals

To the modern consumer or just anyone who's visited a McDonald's restaurant at some point in the past few decades, the notion of having an extra-value combo meal available for purchase is wholly ingrained in the dining experience. Yet, the variety of numbered McDonald's meals (each containing an order of fries and a beverage) hasn't been around for the entirety of its existence. If you visited a location in the 1980s, you'd be forced to craft your own number seven combo (or number two, if you prefer), because extra value meals weren't introduced at McDonald's until 1991.

Given the undeniably expensive nature of buying items a la carte from fast food chains in the 21st century from McDonald's or otherwise, it was sort of stunning to learn extra value meals are actually a product of the post-1980s time period. Prior to a northern California-based McDonald's employee deciding to offer combo meals as a gimmick to boost sales, extra value meals were a figment of the imagination.

The man responsible for inventing the modern fast food combo meal may not receive the credit he deserves. Still, the fact that the eureka moment leading to combo meals' creation didn't occur until the 1990s provides a notable distinction between the McDonald's menu in the 1980s and today.

You could have an Italian night with its McPizza or McSpaghetti (depending on the year)

Everybody knows you go to McDonald's when you're craving a certain category of food — namely, greasy burgers and salt-laden french fries. Now, there's more than just cheeseburgers and fries available for purchase at each and every McDonald's in the 2020s. That was true back in the 1980s, as well, even if some products didn't last the entire 10-year span. Case in point: If you visited the fast food chain during its brief flings with fast-casual Italian fare during the '80s, you might notice the McPizza or McSpaghetti on the menu.

Somewhat shockingly, you may still be able to order a McPizza from the gigantic Orlando, Florida location as of 2023. Then again, unless you're in the U.S. theme park capital for a particular reason, you won't find the late-1980s menu item — one that attempted to usurp sales from fast food pizza chains — on the 21st-century McDonald's menu.

Of course, just as the McPizza's brief 1980s heyday ended soon after it began, the McSpaghetti found little traction on menus outside the decade — within the U.S., that is. After all, the pasta-based item made a splash in the Philippines and still remains available on McDonald's menus in the country.

Gift certificates were actually listed on some drive-thru menu boards

Is there a person in the world who's unaware that restaurant-specific gift cards can be purchased from any McDonald's location at any given time? It's unlikely. For that very reason, we can essentially guarantee you'll never see the words "gift card" listed on a modern McDonald's menu, be it inside the restaurant or lit on its outdoor drive-thru board. Of course, if you took a gander at a McDonald's menu in the 1980s, you just might've found an inedible gift certificate listed among entrées, desserts, and breakfast.

While we can't determine if this was the case for all the franchise's drive-thrus at the time, there's also no denying at least some McDonald's drive-thru menus offered a gift certificate (it's like a gift card but made of paper, fellow kids) worth a whopping 50 cents.

When and why this non-food item lost its place on McDonald's menus after the 1980s is unclear. Then again, considering the nigh-ubiquitous knowledge of gift cards' availability in 2023, those answers likely don't matter.

McFlurry fans would need to amend their dessert selection during the 1980s

Like other McDonald's menu items that are considered among its all-time best, the McFlurry has been around so long that it's hard to recall a time when it wasn't a menu-defining staple. For decades-long patrons of McDonald's, though — or at least those who made memorable trips during the 1980s — the McFlurry is among the more recent additions to the restaurant canon. On that note, anyone wondering what the McDonald's dessert menu looked like in the 1980s can forget about the McFlurry.

The absence of the McFlurry from McDonald's menus in the 1980s didn't mean you were without additional dessert options, though. More than that, between the hot and deep-fried (as opposed to their baked counterparts at contemporary McDonald's) apple and cherry pies, two different types of cookies, a sundae, and a vanilla soft-serve cone selection, there's a decent chance you wouldn't miss the McFlurry whatsoever if you magically located an exact '80s McDonald's replica in a faraway land.

The 1995 debut date of the McFlurry signals that it wasn't far removed from the 1980s menus. Yet, it clearly didn't exist during the second-to-last decade of the 20th century and wasn't a sight to see on menus of the time as a result.

Countless customers obtained free menu items during the 1984 Summer Olympics

When Mary Lou Retton scored a perfect 10.0 during the final vault to win the women's all-around gymnastics gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, it didn't signal the Cold War had ended. But, the then-16-year-old's multi-medal-winning performance at the '84 Olympics in Los Angeles undoubtedly vaulted the under-five-feet-tall athlete to unimaginable public heights. Most importantly for our purposes, the McDonald's menu that year was filled with reminders of Team USA's dominant Olympic performance and led to customers receiving millions of dollars of free food as a result.

Building on national pride during the quadrennial international sporting event, the superbly simple promotion was a resounding success in terms of driving up customer interest. After all, the company promised free food whenever Team USA won a medal. With the Soviet Union boycotting that year's Olympic games, the U.S. athletes won U.S.-based McDonald's patrons a staggering amount of free items.

The 1984 Olympic menu promotion caused a literal Big Mac shortage at some of the 6,600 nationwide locations at one point. Of course, its popularity cost the company millions upon millions of dollars, as well, meaning you're unlikely to see a similar promotion on McDonald's menus after the 1980s.

You could briefly order a McDLT with the lettuce and tomato served separately from the burger

Has anyone ever unwrapped a lettuce-and-tomato-topped cheeseburger (from any fast food joint on the market) and found themselves lamenting the evidently soggy state of the sandwich's veggies? We'd have to imagine so ... but not among some of McDonald's visitors in the 1980s. After all, midway through the decade, McDonald's began offering a now-defunct menu item known as the McDLT to interested consumers.

Rolled out to great fanfare that included a commercial starring a pre-"Seinfeld" (and hair-headed) Jason Alexander, we suppose the McDLT's concept makes some sense in theory. Additionally, it appears that the item's signature container (which featured two separate chambers, with the hot burger on one side and the cold vegetable toppings on the other) actually accomplished what it set out to do by decreasing the risk of biting into an unappetizing burger.

In that sense, we were somewhat surprised to discover the rationale behind the McDLT's removal from menus was more about discontinuing the use of its Styrofoam packaging rather than an issue with the burger. Regardless of the reason for its disappearance, there's no doubt McDonald's menu looked relatively different in the 1980s whenever the McDLT was available.

It was the first full decade when Happy Meals were available for purchase

Amid menu items that have either since vanished or weren't yet available, much of the 1980s McDonald's offerings differed from the current slate. If nothing else, though, at least children who came of age during the 1980s can take solace in knowing that the McDonald's menu featured Happy Meals for the entire 10-year span, the first full decade of the iconic kid's meal's existence.

Like countless other McDonald's menu items we've come to take for granted, it's virtually impossible to imagine a time when crying children couldn't be mollified by a toy-packed Happy Meal in their lap. Thankfully, whether you were the type of kid who preferred a plain burger or one with cheese inside a cardboard box featuring a teeny-tiny order of fries and a promotional toy of widely varying quality, the Happy Meal was an integral part of the restaurant's menu throughout the '80s.

The fast food burger chain may have been hesitant to add the Happy Meal prior to its 1979 nationwide debut (after a soft launch in select stores two years earlier), but we're all thankful it chose to do so — especially those children who were accustomed to the menu in the 1980s.

Even then, breakfast was only offered to customers until 10:30 in the morning

Until the restaurant reverses course and amends its prior decision to rescind its all-day-breakfast menu promotion, we'll continue to hold a grudge against McDonald's. Even if we wholeheartedly understand the practical concerns that led the fast food chain to once again stop serving breakfast after the morning in 2020, it's our right to disagree as Americans. Of course, considering all-day-breakfast was a relatively recent phenomenon, it likely comes as no surprise that, breakfast-wise, McDonald's menu looked similar in the 1980s to what you'd expect in the 2020s (minus the current favorite McGriddle sandwich, which was introduced in 2003) and was ended at 10:30 a.m. each morning.

Now, the logistical difficulties of merely attempting to continue serving breakfast items at McDonald's locations after 10:30 a.m. aren't newly-developed problems. It's sort of easy, then, to understand why the menu from decades ago looked so similar to the restaurant's current menu in that regard.

The fact that McDonald's morning menu cutoff time was the same in the 1980s as it is in 2023 is certainly noteworthy in part because it's one of the few areas where little has changed in the ensuing years. Perhaps that similarity will one day end, though, and we'll be able to once again enjoy a sausage and egg McMuffin as our dinner of choice.

Health-conscious consumers could find salads on the menu starting in 1986

The entire concept of healthy fast food fare remains oxymoronic no matter how you slice it. We're the first to acknowledge that we've been prone to purchase some of the supposedly less nutritionally detrimental products from various fast food restaurants in our day. While we continue to mourn the 2022 loss of McDonald's (and Burger King's) salads from menus across the U.S., the item was a brand-new addition under the golden arches at one point. In fact, if you looked at a McDonald's menu after 1986, you'd find the first salads ever offered by the company.

Offered as a way to entice a demographic that traditionally avoided McDonald's at all costs, the mid-1980s introduction of salads didn't exactly mark a turning point in its health food fortunes (see the discontinuation of salads at nationwide McDonald's during and after the COVID-19 pandemic as proof). But, it may have provided an interim boost, as customers uninterested in the chain's classic high-calorie, high-fat products were suddenly given an alternate choice.

Will we ever see a return of salads to Mickey D's menus in the future? We're not soothsayers, so we can't say. All we can say is that compared to the menu of today, the McDonald's menu in the mid-to-late 1980s featured more health-conscious items in its roster.

The McRib was first offered during the decade as a permanent fixture (for several years, at least)

There's a very good explanation as to why the McRib is only offered as an occasional, limited-time menu item: It simply isn't popular enough to merit a year-round inclusion by the restaurant. Of course, McDonald's decision to relegate the cult classic, pork rib-shaped sandwich to a special schedule of short-term releases didn't come out of nowhere. Along those lines, if you're still wondering what McDonald's menu looked like in the 1980s, you should consider the possibility of seeing the McRib among permanent menu items during at least part of the decade.

Now, if the McRib had been an absolute smash right out of the gate after its 1982 debut, perhaps it could have earned a full-time slot on the McDonald's menu. As it stands, though, the barbecue-sauced monstrosity was a fairly substantial flop as a national staple. The undeniable mark it made on certain customers meant the McRib was still destined to reappear at random intervals. Since you'd only see the McRib on McDonald's menus every so often in a post-1983 world, it's an extremely easy scenario to comprehend. In that sense, it nicely illustrates the old adage: The more the world (and McDonald's) changes, the more it stays the same.