How the Egg McMuffin may have actually saved McDonald's

Let's put aside McDonald's status as America's Fast Food Villain for a moment and pretend there's not a whole lot wrong with the way they do business. Labor practices and environmental damage aside (yikes), Egg McMuffins are, we must admit, freakin' delicious. While they may seem simple enough: English muffin, fried egg, melty cheese, and maybe some bacon or sausage, you'd have a hard time recreating this feat of food engineering at home. And why would you? The Egg McMuffin is meant to be consumed on the go, in a rush, perhaps with one hand on the steering wheel (via Wall Street Journal). And it's likely the reason McDonald's is thriving to this day.

In 2015, when McDonald's rolled out their All-Day Breakfast, their sales were floundering. They were planning on closing more stores than they were opening for the first time in 40 years. McDonald's was being killed by a new beast called fast-casual (think Chipotle, Panera) — and their attempts at being classier weren't working (via the Associated Press). They looked desperate for releasing an "artisan" chicken sandwich and their promises of transparency about the food chain didn't seem to be working, per Slate. They even briefly changed their slogan from "I'm Lovin' it" to "Lovin' beats Hatin'" and seemed to receive pushback over breaking a cardinal rule of marketing: avoid language with negative connotations (via CBS News). The slogan prompted widespread mockery.

Egg McMuffins gave the people what they wanted

Enter All Day Breakfast. In three months, McDonald's sales for stores open for at least 13 months rose almost 6 percent (via Quartz). Their shares crept close to an all-time high. Because McDonald's had been dominating the fast-food breakfast game and customers wanted extended hours — badly — the plan that had been years in the making was finally pulling them out of the muck (via The Motley Fool and Eater). And it had nothing to do with imitating other chains – just with giving the customer what they wanted.

The Egg McMuffin played a central role as the most predictably available all-day breakfast item, while other items like hashbrowns and McGriddles weren't always initially offered (via Eater and Slate). It featured freshly cracked eggs, as opposed to its McDonald's other eggy breakfasts. And at 310 calories for the Canadian bacon version, you could do a lot worse for on-the-go breakfast (via McDonald's). In 2018, McDonald's made almost a quarter of its money through pre-lunch sales, and the Egg McMuffin is largely to thank for that (via QSR). And though All-Day Breakfast is gone for now in the pandemic squeeze (via Delish), the McMuffin's ubiquity remains.