McDonald’s hasn’t served a single salad in almost nine months, and it’s part of a strategy helping the chain cash in during the pandemic

McDonald's southwest salad 5
McDonald’s salads are off the menu. Irene Jiang / Business Insider
  • McDonald’s salads disappeared from the menu in April. Nine months later, they still haven’t returned. 

  • Few customers seem bothered by the loss of salads, and the simplified menu has helped McDonald’s speed up service.

  • McDonald’s declined to comment on the future of its salads but said the chain was still actively exploring opportunities to bring back missing menu items in new ways. 

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

McDonald’s salads have disappeared. And no one seems to be missing them too much. 

In late March, the chain announced plans to slash all-day breakfast and many of its less-popular items from the menu, including yogurt, salads, and grilled-chicken sandwiches. The decision was said to be a temporary move to simplify and speed up operations.

Read more: McDonald’s All Day Breakfast might have disappeared forever, as workers and franchisees rally against the beloved menu

McDonald’s began adding some menu items back over the summer, including the Bacon McDouble, vanilla-ice-cream cones, and chocolate-chip cookies. The chain has also rolled out new menu items, such as spicy nuggets, and brought back seasonal favorites, like the McRib.

However, one category still has not returned. McDonald’s salads seem to have disappeared without a trace. 

The disappearance of the McDonald’s salad

McDonald's southwest salad 2
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

McDonald’s added salads to menus across the US in 1987. The company’s push into “healthy” menu items served as an attempt to combat its negative reputation, solidified with the 2001 book “Fast Food Nation” and the 2004 film “Super Size Me.” But despite various revamps, salads did little to drive sales.

“Even priced at $1, double cheeseburgers bring in more revenue than salads or the chicken sandwiches, which cost $3.19 to $4.29,” The New York Times reported in 2006.

Salad iterations over the years have included “premium” salads, McSalad Shakers, and – most recently – options like the southwest and bacon-ranch salads. Then, after more than three decades on the menu, salads of all kinds disappeared early in the pandemic.

“McDonald’s is a business with one primary goal: to generate profits for shareholders,” Marion Nestle, a professor of food policy and nutrition at New York University, told Business Insider. “It is not interested in producing foods that do not sell or bring people into outlets.”

McDonald's southwest salad 1
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Franchisees have celebrated the decision to cut less-popular items from the menu, with two telling Business Insider earlier this year that the changes helped speed up service and cut complexity behind the scenes.

“Keeping our menus simplified is your NOA’s No. 1 priority,” an independent group of McDonald’s franchisees called the National Owners Association wrote in an internal memo viewed by Business Insider in June. 

McDonald’s menu-simplification strategy has paid off so far. The chain has cut drive-thru wait times by nearly 30 seconds over the past year, Restaurant Dive reported, citing a SeeLevel HX study. And same-store sales were up were up 4.6% in the third quarter. Analysts have said that McDonald’s is the most likely chain to thrive in the months and years to come as many other restaurants struggle to survive the pandemic.

Read more: McDonald’s is the chain most likely to thrive in the months and years to come as restaurants scramble to recover from the pandemic, analysts say

Are McDonald’s salads gone forever?

Not many customers seem to be missing McDonald’s salads. Sure, there are a few people on Twitter who are confused. 

But these are tiny blips on the fast-food radar – especially compared with the explosion of trending tweets sparked by changes such as Taco Bell cutting potatoes from the menu. McDonald’s seems to be seeing far more social-media complaints centered on the loss of all-day breakfast. Even the McRib, with its cultish fanbase, appears in higher demand. 

Read more: McDonald’s McRib is returning to menus across America for the first time in 8 years, sparking celebration among the obsessive fans of the cult-classic sandwich

McDonald’s said in a statement to Business Insider that the chain cut menu items in April in an effort to simplify operations while improving customer experience. The company declined to comment on if its salads would return to menus.

“With customers at the center of everything we do, we’ll continue listening to them and evolving our menu to meet their needs,” McDonald’s said. 

Does that mean salads will be off McDonald’s menu forever? It would be a bold choice – probably too bold for McDonald’s. Since the ’80s, salads have served as a key option to prevent a “veto vote” from health-conscious customers and vegetarians who might otherwise block a family or group of friends from going to McDonald’s.

But if some version of salads do return to McDonald’s menu, they may take on a new form. Chick-fil-A’s salads have received top marks from Business Insider taste testers, with the chain exploring options such as the kale and broccolini instead of bland lettuces. According to McDonald’s, the chain is still actively exploring opportunities to bring back missing menu items in new ways. 

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