If you like to lunch on two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun, you’d better act fast: McDonald’s has announced plans to phase out the Big Mac.
Okay, not really. But social media ate up the news of its axing, published by the satirical site Daily Buzz Live at the end of last year. As with the best fake news, it was grounded in truth. McDonald’s had announced that it had been testing menu cuts after finding that sales in November were down 4.6 percent compared to the previous year. And more revealing than the Big Mac’s hypothetical retirement after almost 50 years on the iconic fast food chain’s menu was people's willingness—our eagerness, even—to believe that its demise might be possible.
With the rise of “fast casual” chains like Chipotle and Shake Shack, fast food is on the rocks, at least among the middle classes who can afford a $10 lunch instead of a $5 one. Chipotle enjoyed a 16.8 percent increase in sales at stores open more than a year in 2014, and shares of Shake Shack—a self-styled “anti-McDonald’s”—doubled on the day of its January IPO, despite the fact that Danny Meyer's burger business only operates at 63 locations.
Even if this market shift hasn’t yet sent the Big Mac out to pasture, change is definitely coming. Among the menu items McDonald’s really is considering cutting is the Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a sandwich perhaps no less iconic than the Big Mac. Franchise consultant Richard Adams told USA Today that items sometimes remain on the menu long after having ceased to sell well for what he called “politically correct reasons.” It’s a mixed metaphor, since the progressivism of PC would seem to imply a desire to cut high-calorie, high-fat, high-carbon-footprint items in favor of more physically and globally sustainable ones, as some of McDonald’s successful “fast casual” competitors have done.