Updated: Dec 27, 2022
There was a time, not long ago geologically, when McDonald's offered their version of a B.L.T. ("bacon, lettuce, tomato," for my fellow culinary-challenged). The year was 1986, the sandwich was the McD.L.T., and life was good. However, the McD.L.T. succeeded only in delaying the inevitable, as its inclusion on the McDonald's menu would be plagued with issues for years. We'll delve into that later, but let's get this greasy ball rolling with the McD.L.T.'s true legacy.
Strangely enough, the McD.L.T. is known today not so much for what it was, but for a commercial. The ad in question starred none other than Jason Alexander, better known as George Costanza of Seinfield fame.
Before his breakout success on the "show about nothing," Jason was just trying to pay the bills, and McDonald's obliged. This wasn't Mr. Alexander's first foray into commercials; he had starred in spots for United Airlines, Hershey's Kisses and the ill-fated Delta Gold potato chips produced by Frito-Lay. But the McD.L.T. spot ranks as one of the most bizarre ads ever aired, due to Jason Alexander singing whilst wearing a toupee. Full of overacting and '80s fashion, it's absolutely incredible at one minute long, and was an Internet legend waiting to happen. No one thought anything at the time of his apparently-healthy mane, as he hadn't yet become the unofficial spokesman for male pattern baldness. (On an unrelated note, check out 1981's underrated horror flick The Burning to see one of Mr. Alexander's first big breaks. He also dons a hairpiece in this film.)
Here's that commercial, which will consume an entire minute of your life. You'll probably watch it more than once; I know I did. There was a thirty-second version, but Retro Injection goes big or goes home.
While the Jason Alexander McD.L.T. commercial is infamous, not many know of the following piece of marketing, which fills the tall order of being even more strange, while simultaneously lame: McDonald's also aired a TV spot featuring stock footage of the Warner Bros. Pepe Le Pew character to promote the sandwich! I'm not sure how this ad was given the final green light: The editing is poor, and using a skunk to promote a food product is a generally-questionable business tactic. (This commercial is included purely for completest purposes, and again, it's not nearly as good as Mr. Alexander's effort. And lest you think I'm saying that as reverse psychology clickbait, I'm not.)
Now, on to the meat of this write-up. That would be bacon, and a hamburger patty of dubious origins.
The McD.L.T. sold quite well for years, despite protests from environmentalist groups due to the inordinately large foam packaging. The box for the McD.L.T. was twice the size of a normal sandwich container, in order to keep the veggies cool and the meat hot. In fact, there was an insulating divider in the middle, to ensure the twenty-second trip to your table didn't wreak havoc with thermodynamics:
In theory, McDonald's locations were to be outfitted with special equipment to deliver maximum temperature contrast. In an interview with the website Serious Eats, McDonald's grillmaster Ken Forton stated the following: "They wanted the heel [bottom bun] and the burger to be warm, but the crown [top bun], lettuce, and tomato to be cold. And you can understand that; who really wants to eat hot lettuce?... There was a special heating-cooling machine that we had. It was like a rack heater, but cold on one side, and hot on the other. I think a lot of locations just used regular heaters, so customers only ever got warm burgers."
Problems with kitchen equipment and whale-hugging extremists weren't the only issues the Golden Arches faced: The corporate bigwigs failed to factor in that people are inherently lazy, and wouldn't be too keen on putting together their own sandwich. Whatever happened to deserving your break today?
Despite all of this, the McD.L.T. persevered until circa January 1991. McDonald's ultimately scrapped the item due to its phasing out of foam packaging, on which the McD.L.T. was dependent. Environmental concerns were cited by the company, but I'm sure that paper wrappers spelling higher profit margins didn't hurt the decision. In the end, the loss of the McD.L.T. was mourned by few, but it likely garnered more of a following than some of McDonald's other failed offerings, including the McHot Dog and McSpaghetti. (And speaking of weird chain restaurant items, remember when Friendly's had egg rolls? I'd like to be in some of these board rooms.)
For my part, I've kept alive the memory of the McD.L.T. by preventing this 1986 McDonald's tumbler from shattering. My dad got it for me several years ago at an antique store in a neighboring town. At that point, I was still indulging at McDonald's on a regular basis. My incisors haven't penetrated a McDonald's burger since 2015, and I'm fine with indefinitely sparing my system from their vein-clogging evils. (This isn't to say I'm a health freak; I'm just not looking for a coronary bypass.) These days, I have a morbid interest in McDonald's strictly from a marketing standpoint.
While I didn't have a McD.L.T. container at the ready, you can see that I've hoarded some of that great foam packaging. People sometimes ask where I got them from, and the answer is: McDonald's! Yes, I've kept them all these years, and they've found a home on top of the games in my arcade. There's nothing like period-accurate garbage for that authentic game room feel.
If you crave more vintage McDonald's goodness, there's no need to go anywhere else! The New Food Changeables Happy Meal promotional got a great feature, which ended up being one of my favorites. Also, you can witness incredible photos from my seventh birthday party, held at a McDonald's in 1987! And what's a trip to the Golden Arches without Funny Fry Friends?
It's hard for me to fathom, but this is Retro Injection's fiftieth published article! It's been a whirlwind six months, and thanks go out to all our visitors and contributors, including a few celebrities. We update on a regular basis, so keep popping over to see our latest rants. Better yet, join the ranks of the elite, and get notified of new stuff!