Feds Push To Fix McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines

McDonald's logo | Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Federal authorities are mandating repairs and maintenance standards to address the persistent issue of malfunctioning soft-serve ice cream machines at McDonald’s and other fast-food chains.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice’s antitrust division wrote a joint letter to the U.S. Copyright Office, urging exemptions for “commercial soft serve machines” as cited from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. This law currently restricts franchise owners from conducting repairs or hiring third-party technicians.

Presently, only technicians authorized by the manufacturer of McDonald’s soft serve ice cream machines are permitted to perform digital repairs. This limitation has caused frustration for franchise owners and may play a role in explaining the infamously unavailable ice cream.

The letter to the Copyright Office also emphasized the importance of renewing repair-related exemptions to foster competition in adjacent markets. The letter highlighted the detrimental impact on businesses by citing significant financial losses and downtime associated with soft-serve equipment breakdowns.

The letter further noted that “soft serve equipment breakdown can lead to $625 per day loss of sales … there are long wait times for authorizer repairs, and … a licensed repair technician charges over $300 per 15 minutes,” as reported by Fox 4 KDFW.

The FTC began investigating consumer complaints and concerns McDonald’s franchise owners raised in 2021 regarding recurring issues with soft-serve machines. These complaints centered on financial losses incurred while waiting for authorized repairs to be completed. In a related development in 2022, McDonald’s faced a $900 million lawsuit filed by an ice cream machine repair company.

The lawsuit alleged that McDonald’s had prohibited franchise owners from using a “Kytch” device that reportedly offers easy fixes for soft serve machines. This device enabled troubleshooting of digital problems via Wi-Fi, bypassing the need for authorized repairs by Taylor, the exclusive manufacturer of McDonald’s ice cream machines, as reported by Fox 4.

McDonald’s defended its stance by claiming that the device violated the machine’s warranty and posed potential safety risks, including the risk of “serious human injury,” as reported by the New York Post.

The government’s intervention underscores the importance of addressing the challenges faced by franchise owners in maintaining and repairing essential equipment, with broader implications for market competition.

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