Explained | McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines

By Thomas Kwan

Most Americans have this issue of wanting a milkshake from McDonald’s only to go there and find the machine is down, but why is this the case? This week of Explained, we investigate the possible reasons why the ice cream machine is always down.

Since late 2016, the fast food chain came into the public eye for its ice cream machine problem, and this problem is rampant. In recent years this ice cream machine issue has taken life as a viral meme, even ending up on social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook, according to Know Your Meme. This ice cream machine problem has taken a life of its own, even getting the attention of former investigative journalist of Vox, Johnny Harris. Ice cream machine issues do not end here. McDonald’s faces a $900 million lawsuit for defamation of the company that makes and repairs these machines. Even the federal government wants to know the answers to why these machines are always down. Now is the time to journey down the rabbit hole that is the ice cream machine theory.

Ice Cream Machine Problem Timeline

In 2016 the ice cream machine problem became viral, spreading to every corner of the internet. Although this issue is not new about how often their local McDonald’s ice cream machines are down, it rose to fame after a Facebook user called Caito Potatoe. According to Caito Potatoe Facebook post, she began ranting about her unsatisfying experience of driving 20 minutes to McDonald’s for ice cream only to find out the machines were down.

In 2017 Mcdonald’s decided to address this widespread problem by buying new machines that required less maintenance. This change would hopefully lead to less downtime, according to Inc. However, this did not fix the problem as this problem prevails even today.

In 2019 former employee Will Doyle lets the secret spill as to why the machines are always broken, according to the Daily Record. Under the Twitter username @will_doyle, the former Mcdonald’s employee stated the ice cream machine would run well if the staff would clean it. The 3-hour process of cleaning is taxing and not done as often as it should. However, other evidence claims that this reason alone is not enough to why this occurs.

“…I used to work in McDonald’s. The ice cream machine was never broke, it just takes 3 hours to clean, so we used to say it was broke, so we didn’t have to serve you a lot…,” said in a Tweet by ex-employee Doyle.

In 2020 The Verge announced a new app created by a 24-year-old software engineer, Rashiq Zahid, called McBroken, which uses geolocation, showing which are running/broken in your area according to The Verge.

In 2021 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was interested in investigating the ice cream machine problem and trying to discover the reason behind this issue.

In 2022 CBS reported what possibly is causing the ice cream machine problem. According to CBS, just because a machine is down does not mean it broke. CBS investigated to find out the truth of the matter.

The Real Reason Behind The “Broken” Ice Cream Machine

The real reason behind why the ice cream machine may surprise you, according to James O’Sullivan, an owner of a frozen yogurt shop that uses the same machines as McDonald’s, the machine could be going through its mandatory, daily, four-hour pasteurizing sequence. Taylor, a manufacturer of the machines, allegedly designed these machines to break down. Employees would go into work greeted with an error such as heat cycle fail. The cost to have a simulation employee come out and fix the machine is $500.

Each step in that process has to be done and executed in a certain amount of time, or the whole thing fails, and it needs to restart,” said James O’Sullivan, a co-owner of a frozen yogurt shop using the same Taylor machines.

I’d come in the morning, and it would say, Heat cycle fail,” said CBS correspondent David Pogue.

A McDonald’s employee is supposed to pick up the phone, call a Taylor technician, ‘Hey, please come out. We really wanna pay Taylor another $500 for repairs,‘ said O’Sullivan.”

Although Taylor, the manufacturer of these ice cream machines, declined an on-camera interview with CBS, they did reply by email regarding claims of intentional design flaws to make money from repairs:

“Taylor does not make any money off of servicing its machines. All repairs to Taylor machines are handled by a network of independent distributors.”

Photo By Michael Jarmoluk

Taylor does charge those technicians for their training and 25% of their annual revenue from selling parts. According to O’Sullivan, even if ice cream machine owners do not pay Taylor directly for repairs, they make money through parts and training costs. When O’Sullivan created Kytch, a device add-on that helps decode error messages produced by the ice cream machine, it allowed employees to maintain and repair the machines themselves.

So this would say, ‘HPR > 41 SL,’ what would the Kytch message say that’s more helpful than that?” said Pogue.

Maybe something as simple as, ‘This hopper heated up because you left the lid off,'” said O’Sullivan.

In late 2020, McDonald’s emails to 13,000 franchise owners asked if they used Kytch and every franchise owner said they did not. According to the blue, franchise owners do not use Kytch. Could we have found the answer? Is this the reason behind the broken machines, a refusal to design a product that would not require as much maintenance, or McDonald’s resistance to using Kytch or like devices to make maintenance easier?

So we might have our answer, McDonald’s refusal to use products like Kytch, Taylor not willing to make an easy-maintenance-machine, lazy employees, or all these issues combined. One thing is for sure we can look forward to broken ice cream machines at McDonald’s in our near future and beyond.