Shawn versus the McRib

I don’t often write about something as mundane as fast food. However, the McRib is, to some, more than just typical fast food.

For various reasons I have more or less just let the McRib advertising and fanaticism fly over my head every time it’s come around. I never bought and ate one, figuring I wasn’t missing much. For that matter I have humorously and somewhat derisively called it the “McFib” at various points in the past.

Well, with McDonald’s announcing for the fourth time that this is the “McRib Farewell Tour” (with the previous three being in 2005, 2006, and 2007) curiosity finally got the better of me and today, in need of both a late lunch and realizing I might run out of opportunities to see what all the fuss is or was about, I made my way over to the McDonald’s at 5414 Airline Drive in Houston, Texas, and ordered my first (and quite possibly my last and only) McRib. (With fries and a Coke, of course.)

Now I haven’t blogged a whole lot about my eating habits here, so I’ll go ahead and fill in a couple of things. My usual order at McDonald’s, on the rare occasions I decide to eat there, is a 10-piece Chicken McNuggets meal. (I’ve been known to order the comparable meal from Jack in the Box as well, so I’m definitely not brand loyal to the Golden Arches even when it comes to my chicken nugget fix.) When I do order sandwiches (hamburgers or otherwise) I usually do not order pickles. In the case of the McRib, however, you have the meat, the bun, the sauce, the onions, and the pickles. So for better or worse I ordered my McRib as it comes, pickles and all.

So you’re likely asking now, “Enough with the lead-in, Shawn, how was the darn thing?”

It was okay, about what I would expect for a fast food take on a rib sandwich. The pickles were barely noticeable, not the distraction I was expecting them to become. But overall, the McRib is an offering I can take or leave. I’m not hooked on it or anxiously awaiting its return by any means. I’m perfectly content with my usual McNuggets meal the next time I find myself at the Golden Arches. (Interesting sidenote here: both the McRib and Chicken McNuggets were created by the same McDonald’s executive chef, René Arend, two years apart.)

I can say with confidence that I still don’t get why there was so much hype around the McRib every time it would seasonally appear on the McDonald’s menu as a limited time offer.

By contrast, I am a huge devotee of Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza, and was horrified when that item went off the menu for what we (the broader group of Mexican Pizza fans) thought was going to be permanently. Quoting Wikipedia:

On November 5, 2020, Taco Bell removed the Mexican Pizza from its menu, saying that its paperboard packaging had a significant environmental impact.[2] In response, Krish Jagirdar, a vegetarian Indian American, started a petition for Taco Bell to reinstate the Mexican Pizza. The petition attracted more than 170,000 signatures.[1]

And surprisingly, in response, Taco Bell brought it back, with demand definitively outpacing supply for its original 2022 May return. Taco Bell actually had to take the Mexican Pizza back off the menu again due to supply issues, but it returned in 2022 September and is sticking around for good this time.

There’s not much information on whether or not the Mexican Pizza was originally rolled out as a limited time offer. However, I can say that many such permanent menu items do start out as limited time offerings; if memory serves correctly, this was the case for both Taco Bell’s Fritos® Burrito and 7-Layer Burrito (both of which have unfortunately been discontinued). In at least two countries (Germany and Luxembourg) the McRib is still available year-round. Per the McDonald’s website FAQ entry “Why isn’t the McRib® sold year-round?”:

We like to change up our menu throughout the year by offering some limited time only items, like our Shamrock Shake® in the spring. The timing of the McRib return can vary from year-to-year, but most recently, it debuts in the fall.

Yet there are no other limited-time offerings with remotely the fame or fan following of the McRib. I hadn’t even heard of the Shamrock Shake until I read this FAQ entry, or if I had it wasn’t memorable. I have to wonder if the PR mouthpiece of McDonald’s said this just to provide some kind of plausible reason.

Honestly, given some of the things that have happened in the fast food business, I’m glad we still have McNuggets.

Trademark infringement accusations run amok

The Houston Chronicle recently reported on a Houston restaurant being the recipient of legal bullying by none other than McDonald’s. Yes, the “billions and billions served” gargantuan international hamburger joint, whose food in some circles is synonymous with “#$%&”, has accused the one-location Jus’ Mac of trademark infringement.

I’m sorry if my bias is showing. I liked the food at Jus’ Mac from the one time I got to eat there months ago, and I’m a supporter of local businesses when feasible. I’ve never been a fan of McDonald’s, and while the hard boycott hasn’t been there for a while it’s always been “why eat at McDonald’s when I can go to Little Big’s, Tacos A Go-Go, Last Concert Cafe, Chipotle, Taco Cabana, etc?” (Yes, McDonald’s used to own part of Chipotle, but does no longer as of 2006.)

To me, this is clearly an attempt by McDonald’s at intimidation, and at first glance it certainly smells like intimidation for intimidation’s sake. I think McDonald’s’ well-intentioned attempt to protect their trademarks is failing miserably in the execution department. As we learned from the “hot coffee” lawsuit, common sense appears to be lacking in the legal department at McDonald’s. (For those unfamiliar with the hot coffee case: several previous suits were settled for small amounts and McDonald’s did nothing to keep them from happening; McDonald’s tried to settle for a laughably low $800 in response to Stella’s generous initial demand for $20,000. Ultimately, McDonald’s paid out an amount “less than $600,000” but we can assume much higher than the $20,000 Stella originally sought.)

Anyway, if you believe them, McDonald’s seriously thinks that people will mix up macaroni-and-cheese dishes with a Big Mac hamburger or any other of their menu items that have “Mac” in the name. I find this hard to believe; the restaurants are certainly different enough in style. I certainly think it’ll be difficult for McDonald’s to convince a jury there’s potential for confusion. That’s the problem, though: by the time it gets to a jury, McDonald’s has probably already bankrupted Jus’ Mac with legal costs. I know I’m not the only person who sees this as a travesty compared to real justice, yet this kind of war of attrition is exactly what our “justice system” has turned into.

So if you live in or plan to visit Houston, swing by Jus’ Mac at 2617 Yale and check it out. And pass the word to McDonald’s that what they are doing isn’t cool at all.