The untold truth of McDonald's

McDonald's is one of the most iconic success stories in American history. Founded by two brothers in the 1940s, today it has grown into a multi-billion dollar company with thousands of locations and more than a million workers worldwide. 

The fast food restaurant is perhaps the most recognizable franchise on the planet, and has remained so in spite of scandals, rumors, and even lawsuits. The company has a lot of fans, but there are a lot of tidbits of trivia that would fascinate even the most die hard Big Mac aficionados. 

It started as a barbecue restaurant

Today, McDonald's is best known as a fast food joint specializing in burgers, but it didn't start out that way. Richard and Maurice McDonald opened up their first drive-in restaurant in 1940, after their first culinary attempt (a hot dog stand) failed.

Their barbecue restaurant brought in a lot of business, but the McDonald brothers weren't satisfied. The entrepreneurs had vowed to make $1 million by the time they turned 50 and knew that in order to meet that goal they would have to be even more innovative. They switched from serving barbecue to serving the staples they would soon be known for: burgers, fries, and milkshakes.

They are the largest toy distributor in the world

The Happy Meal toys McDonald's gives out make them the largest toy distributor in the world, outselling huge companies such as Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart. The Happy Meal was first introduced in 1979. Since then, millions of Happy Meals have been sold and millions of toys have been distributed.

McDonald's has partnered with several huge toy toy manufacturers over the years, often drawing in long lines of customers to collect some of their toys such as the Teenie Beanie Babies sold in 1997. Other Happy Meals have featured Barbie, Hello Kitty, and Mario, making them popular with kids and adults alike.

They've been known to use expired meat

In 2014, a journalist recorded footage of expired meat products being repackaged with new expiration dates at Shanghai Husi Food, one of McDonald's meat suppliers. The resulting scandal led to a Chinese ban on products from the Husi Food Group, suspending the sales of McDonald's chicken products in many of their Shanghai locations.

The scandal didn't just hurt McDonald's sales in China, but also in Japan where 20 percent of chicken meat was provided by the Husi Food Plant. The expired meat scandal hit McDonald's hard as sales in Japan and China account for more than 10 percent of the company's earnings.

Foreign objects have been known to pop up in their McNuggets

McDonald's has had some pretty unsavory accusations made about the quality of their food. In 2015, the company pulled nearly a million Chicken McNuggets from a Cargill factory (one of McDonald's meat suppliers) in Thailand  after a customer in Japan found pieces of plastic in their McNugget meal.

Another customer claimed to have found a piece of vinyl in their McNuggets and another said they found piece of a human tooth in their order of french fries. To recover from the incidents, McDonald's Japan ran a heavy campaign to win back its customers. They sold discounted meals, held giveaways, and launched a new line of McNuggets made out of tofu.  

Their big money-maker is real estate

A large portion of McDonald's profits come not from selling food but from real estate. They own much of the land on which their franchises are located along with some of the buildings. Franchise owners who lease these locations have to pay the company rent.

With billions of dollars invested in land and buildings, McDonald's is one of the world's largest real estate companies, and their revenues reflect this. According to an annual report from McDonald's, this business model "enables us to achieve restaurant performance levels that are among the highest in the industry."

1 in 8 Americans has worked at McDonald's

With thousands of locations all over the world, McDonald's employs a lot of people. The company has almost half a million full-time employees, and even more part-time workers. In the United States alone, it has been estimated that one in every eight Americans has worked at a McDonald's restaurant at some point in their lives. 

Many famous people have worked at McDonald's, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who learned a surprising skill at the restaurant: how to crack eggs with one hand. Other celebrities who got their start at McDonald's include Rachel McAdams, Sharon Stone, Seal, Pink, and Jay Leno.

McDonald's is even more popular in Europe

While the United States is the country that can boast the most McDonald's locations, American McDonald's restaurant sales only account for roughly one third of the company's profits. Its biggest profits actually come from Europe.

McDonald's is the most popular fast food in restaurant in Europe and its locations there  bring in the largest percentage of the company's income. McDonald's is so popular that some countries even view it as a threat to other business; Iceland banned the franchise throughout the country in order to protect local restaurants.

McCafes could soon rival Starbucks

The popularity of McCafe beverages is growing, with more and more people finding themselves stopping at McDonald's for their morning latte. High profit margins on beverages make selling coffee especially lucrative for the company, which can afford to sell the drinks at far cheaper prices than more expensive coffee chains like Starbucks.

These lower prices have made McCafe beverages a hit with customers, especially in Europe. In some European countries, McCafes have dedicated counters within restaurants, and sometimes even operate as independent cafes. 

Their Hamburger University is almost impossible to get into

McDonald's runs a training program called Hamburger University. According to its website, their goal "is to be the best talent developer of people with the most committed individuals to Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value (QSC&V) in the world."

Not only does the program provide its participants with leadership skills, but Hamburger University graduates can also earn college credit for the courses they take. There are several campuses worldwide, and the program is known for being highly selective; Hamburger University in Shanghai has an acceptance rate of just 1 percent. Statistically speaking, you have a better chance of being accepted to Harvard.

The McDonald brothers were bought out for a low price

While the McDonald brothers had a successful business model, they weren't the ones who eventually turned it into the multi-billion dollar international industry it is today. In 1954, they had opened nine McDonald's outlets and sold 21 franchises. Ray Kroc, who supplied the brothers with milkshake machines, was so impressed with their company that he asked to be their franchise agent, according to The New York Times.

By 1955, Kroc had opened his first McDonald's restaurant and founded the Franchise Realty Corporation, which he later changed to the McDonald's Corporation in 1960. The following year, Kroc would purchase the entire company for the shockingly low price of $2.7 million. Each of the McDonald brothers reached their goal of earning $1 million, but that isn't very much when you consider just how successful the restaurant they founded would become. 

They employ professional chefs

McDonald's may be known for its simple foods, but that doesn't mean the company doesn't take food production seriously. They hire professional chefs to ensure the menus are the best they can be. 

McDonald's Executive Chef, Dan Coudreaut, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. As the Director of Culinary Innovation for McDonald's USA, Coudreaut is responsible for leading a team of culinary experts to create new and tasty menu items.

They were involved in the longest civil legal case in English history

In the 1980s, a  London Greenpeace group released a leaflet called "What's wrong with McDonald's — everything they don't want you to know." The activists accused the company of several environmentally unsound practices, such as littering, destroying rain forests, and even mistreating animals and employees.  

In 1990, McDonald's sued the activists demanding they either retract and apologize for their accusations or prove they were true in court. While three of the activists backed down and apologized, two of the activists decided to go to court against the multibillion dollar corporation — with no legal counsel of their own.

McDonald's spent millions of dollars on the case, while the defendants were forced to rely on small donations, drawing criticism from the public who viewed McDonald's as attacking the less wealthy. The court case went on for several years before a judge concluded in 1997 that while McDonald's was innocent of many of the allegations, the company had "pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food did not match."

Many of their employees are unhappy with their working conditions

For the past few years, many McDonald's employees in the United States have been asking for wage increases as part of a larger movement of workers who are seeking to increase the federal minimum wage. Glassdoor, a website which allows employees to anonymously review the companies they work for, reports that low wages and bad management are among the most frequent complaints made by McDonald's employees.

In 2015, McDonald's workers across the country filed OSHA complaints, claiming they were forced to work in hazardous conditions. Unsafe workplace conditions included lack of protective equipment, exposure to hot oil, and grease and wet floors.

Their menus vary around the world

McDonald's menus vary from country to country. While Big Macs are one of the most well-known offerings in the United States, India's menu is much more vegetarian friendly. Vegetarian items there include the McVeggie and the Veg Pizza Puff, recipes that would likely not sell as well in the U.S.

Menus in the Philippines feature rice and spaghetti, while in Japan and Korea locations incorporate more seafood. In Europe, McDonald's food is decidedly more varied than in the U.S. Portugal offers bean and spinach soup on their menu, and Spain serves gazpacho.