Reasons Why Ice Cream Machines At McDonald's Break, According To A Pro - Exclusive

McDonald's ice cream machines are notorious for breaking. The seemingly always out-of-order machines are a source of Internet debate and have turned into a running joke (via Twitter). One user created a site called McBroken to track how many machines are down at any given time. Even the Federal Trade Commission reached out to McDonald's franchisees to find out why soft serve is such a problem. The reality is when employees say an ice cream machine is "down," the cause isn't always about fixing a broken element.

Mashed spoke with Daniel Estrada, CEO and co-founder of the tech platform 86 Repairs, a company that manages and streamlines equipment maintenance and repairs for the restaurant industry. In other words, Estrada has insight from the very people who fix McDonald's ice cream machines. He explained, "Repairs, in general, are a huge cost to restaurant operators" with ice cream machines being only the "11th most common issue" when it comes to McDonald's maintenance. Depending on where the store is located, Estrada said traveling long distances to an ice cream machine adds hours to the delay. A machine could be down for weeks if a part needs to be ordered. 

As a result, only authorized maintenance professionals are supposed to fix the machines, potentially adding to the downtime. The right-to-repair equipment might be a contentious issue for some owners (via CNET), but for better or worse, Estrada said it's a standard across industries and less of a "smoking gun."

The cleaning cycle is complex

The complexity of cleaning and maintenance are major issues for McDonald's soft serve machines. Daniel Estrada said one of the reasons the machines fail is because of a temperature problem. Running either too cold or hot is a big issue for the safety of a dairy product. Estrada also said the Taylor digital ice cream machines that are made for McDonald's locations can have issues with the cleaning cycle. If an error code appears, Estrada explained, "usually that's related to a cleaning cycle that didn't complete properly." Soft service machines need to undergo a time-intensive cleaning process lasting hours, involving 11 steps to remove and clean seven separate parts. 

According to Estrada, "old dairy product" that could be sitting in the machine is removed during the cleaning cycle and "if it doesn't complete correctly or fully, that machine ... needs to be looked at and essentially rerun." This issue could get more complicated if maintenance is overlooked. "We do see with some equipment that when the cleaning cycles aren't done as regularly as they should be or when there isn't the preventative maintenance ... that can cause problems and cause the equipment to fail more frequently," he said. 

Adding to the mystery, Estrada said: "Operators have never had insights into how often things break, how much it costs to fix them, who the most qualified companies are to do that work in different parts of the country." His company aims to streamline the repair process. "When you're that size, you often have custom equipment manufactured for you that only exists in your restaurants," Estrada said. "It's very hard to say where those issues are actually originating."

Daniel Estrada is the CEO and co-founder of 86 Repairs, a tech platform on a mission to streamline equipment maintenance and improve repairs for restaurant owners, so they can keep the ice cream flowing. To find out more and keep up with 86 Repairs, follow on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.