McDonald’s ‘insider info’ revealed by ex-worker – from secret menu to ‘three-second rule’


McDonald’s locations are ubiquitous around the world, but some things still remain a mystery behind the scenes.

If you’ve ever wondered why the milkshake maker is always broken – or if you’ve been itching to learn how to “hack” your way to a cheaper Big Mac – talking to a member of staff is quite revealing.

Emily Johnson, a current HullLive journalist and former McDonald’s employee, was kind enough to answer diners’ burning questions about McD’s.

She shared what it’s really like to work there and revealed some interesting tidbits – like what time you could get free breakfast leftovers for the one order the kitchen staff hate to make.

Read on for Emily’s ideas.

Emily worked at McDonald’s for two years

While at university I spent a good two years working at two different branches of McDonald’s – one in Salford and one in Grimsby.

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what goes on behind the scenes at the world famous burger chain and people have come to me with questions about working there.

Whether it’s complaining that the milkshake machine is never turned on or that yucky secret ingredients are added to burgers, the public wants to know what’s going on behind the drive-thru window.

McDonald’s in the UK is generally divided into franchises, all with different rules and objectives. I have worked in two different franchises so this information is probably common to most but may not apply to all.

Below are the most frequently asked questions as a former McDonald’s employee.

Is there a secret request menu?

(FILES) In this file photo taken January 14, 2019, shows McDonalds Big Macs in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, January 14, 2019.
A McDonald’s hack can get you a cheaper version of a Big Mac

There’s no secret menu per se, but two unusual requests stand out that aren’t on the menu.

Every once in a while a customer would come in and ask for a jar of pickles alone – usually a pregnant woman with cravings!

Depending on the staff serving, some will give it away for free, others will charge 99p or say a definite no.

There’s also a hack where customers ask for a double cheeseburger disguised as a Big Mac. All the additions of lettuce and Big Mac sauce are free, you get the same amount of meat, and it’s also half the price.

Why does the milkshake maker often not work?

McDonald's chocolate milkshake
The Problems With McDonald’s Milkshake Machines Are More Complicated Than You Think

Unfortunately, this question does not have a single answer. In my experience, these are the following reasons:

  • The milkshake maker’s cleaning cycle takes hours and quite often people forget to put it on its cleaning cycle at the right time, which means it automatically kicks in mid-day, oops!
  • During Covid, no milkshakes or McFlurry mixes were delivered to stores in the UK.
  • Someone accidentally put the McFlurry mix in the milkshake section of the machine and vice versa – which often happens because they look alike. Everyone is too busy to stop and do the tedious sorting work.
  • Finally, the answer no one wants to hear: it’s boring to make them. At peak times when customers are queuing in the street and everyone is ordering five milkshakes and five ice creams each, it’s incredibly slow and you can only make one at a time. You also have to run to the other side of the store to do them if you work on the drive-thru, so it’s easier to say you don’t. However, managers do not encourage this behavior!

What happens to all the breakfast stuff after 11am?

It goes in the trash, unfortunately, but we’d try to be as precise as possible when cooking what we thought we needed.

Tip: At Grimsby, if you show up between 11-11:05 a.m., they’ll often give you leftover hash browns and McMuffins for free if there’s leftovers.

Why is inside service much slower than drive-thru?

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 19: A McDonald's employee prepares an order during a one day hiring event at a McDonald's restaurant on April 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  Hundreds of job seekers filled out applications and were interviewed at a McDonald's restaurant in San Francisco during the chain's one-day national event as they seek to fill 50,000 store positions across the country. national scale.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
McDonald’s drive-thru orders are timed

The drive-thru is monitored by a timer that measures the time between when a car stops in front of the intercom and when it drives away with the food.

We had an indoor leader board with the fastest times compared to the rest of McDonald’s restaurants in the UK.

We would make it an extreme sport to try and get the top spot. In-store, there is no leaderboard, so people tend to care more about drive-thru targets.

How does your local McDonald’s rate? Join the conversation in our comments section

How quickly should an order be ready?

120 seconds but I didn’t expect that. The most likely time to get it is in the morning, but at night everyone is too busy cleaning to get home on time. The waiting time can then be around 10 minutes.

What is the worst order to get?

McDonald's Filet O Fish
Filet-O-Fish are usually prepared fresh and are a “huge inconvenience”

For me, it had to be a Filet-O-Fish. In Grimsby especially, no one would ever order them, so it wasn’t constantly cooked like burgers and nuggets.

You cannot keep food in the heating system for more than 15 minutes so it will never be ready.

It would be a huge inconvenience to put them in the deep fryer from frozen, steam the bread, and wait five minutes for it to cook. This would always ruin drive-thru times and also cause a massive queue.

Is there a “three second rule”?

Nope! In my experience, it’s much cleaner than people think and any food dropped or accidentally touched will be thrown away.

The frying station can get quite greasy, but this does not affect the fries.

Who are the best and worst customers?

AYLESBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 03: A security sign can be seen as customers wait in the queue as McDonald's drive-thru resumes operation on June 03, 2020 in Aylesbury, United Kingdom.
Beware – there is a camera on which McDonald’s employees can see you

Best – customers who know what they want and are prompt and polite.

Worst – My personal hatred for pets is people talking into the drive-thru intercom with their phones recording themselves talking in a silly voice or saying stupid things. I don’t think people know there’s a camera we’d be watching you on.

Alternatively, people ordering something and then complaining when they don’t get what they thought they were ordering in their head – employees aren’t telepaths!

Also, anyone who is rude, drunk, or insults your intelligence by saying things like, “Why can’t you get a real job?”

Do staff get free burgers – which ones?

Yes, we received free food during our lunch breaks. Salford would give you four points (dish, side, drink and dessert) for free and also give you free dips galore.

Grimsby would give you points based on how much food was wasted.

If there was a lot of food waste that week, employees would get three points (dish, side and drink) or increase it to four if there was little waste.

They were definitely more stingy and didn’t let employees use paper straws with our drinks to save money.

Are there any weird ingredients in the food?

No, we would season burgers with standard salt and pepper and all meat, fries, desserts, etc. would arrive frozen with no weird mystery ingredients to add.

The vegetables arrive fresh and chilled except for the onions which should be hydrated.

Is this a good place to work?

Bangkok, Thailand - March 4, 2017: Unidentified customer receiving hamburger and ice cream after ordering and buying from McDonald's drive-thru, McDonald's is an American fast food chain
People think McDonald’s is a toxic workplace

In general, I enjoyed my stay there. I don’t know if it was because I was also a student so I didn’t have to work over Christmas and the dreaded New Year’s Eve. I think the staff members really made the job enjoyable and that could be fun.

People feel like it’s a really toxic place to work because of the rude customers. If I’m being honest, managers would always stand up for you and tell customers to walk away if they were abusive.

I don’t think many people took the abuse to heart and just laughed it off with their co-worker.

The only pain was working every weekend and waking up at 4am all the time because it kills your social life.

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