Our Daily Bleg: Happy Meal Toys

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Here’s a bleg asking what happened the last time you ordered a Happy Meal at McDonald’s. I’m particularly interested in whether you were asked a toy question and how it was framed.

Here in Connecticut, when I drive through, I’m sometimes asked whether the toy is for a boy or a girl. Sometimes they ask “Do you want a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy?” Sometimes they don’t ask any toy question (because they have a one-size-fits-all toy).

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How do you feel about these questions? McDonald’s has to balance giving detailed information about toy promotions that change every few weeks against the difficulties of training and wanting to keep the line moving. But the lawyer in me also notes that several states prohibit sex discrimination at public accommodations.

So what happened the last time you ordered a Happy Meal at Mickey D’s?

I’d love to hear your narrative, but, if you can, please also answer these six questions.

  1. With regard to toy choice, which comes closest to your experience:
    1. McDonald’s didn’t ask any question about toy choice.
    2. The toy-choice question didn’t mention the child’s gender (for example, “Do you want the Digisports or the Hello Kitty toy?”).
    3. McDonald’s asked whether the Happy Meal was for a boy or a girl.
    4. McDonald’s offered the choice of a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy.
    5. Other?
  2. If asked a toy-related question, how did you respond?
  3. If not asked a toy question, was it because the employee saw or heard your child and just gave what he thought was the gender-appropriate toy?
  4. What toy were you given?
  5. Was your order placed at the counter or drive through?
  6. When and where (city and state) did the transaction take place?

I’ll report back the results.

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  1. Patrick says:

    At the counter I was asked if the meal was for a boy or girl, I responded girl, and was given a Happy Meal with a Hello Kitty watch, which my 4 year-old daughter loved. This was in Waldorf, MD.

    In December I wasn’t asked whether the meal was for a boy or girl and was given a meal with a boy toy. I took it back to get a girl toy, which was a my little pony toy.

    Sometimes if the boy toy is really cool I will say it is for a boy. My daughter while being very much a girl doesn’t mind playing with trucks or cars or robots.

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  2. Shahrukh Sultan says:

    The one thing about McDonald’s I admire is that it’s uniform not across the USA but also across the world. Unfortunately, that isn’t always a good thing.

    I’ve been in Pakistan for a few months, my home country, and I often take my 6 year old niece to the only McDonald’s in Islamabad. You have to understand, in this part of the world, a meal from McDonald’s is something for the middle to upper-class parts of society to afford, much unlike in the USA where pretty much everyone and anyone go to.

    So back to your question. Each and every time I have been to the one in Islamabad with my niece, it’s been obvious that she would want a female-oriented toy in her Happy Meal. Yet, each and every time, I have just been handed the little box on the tray. I have had to stop and ask the cashier about the toy inside, and his/her facial reaction has always said “Does it matter?”

    My niece is very specific with demands, even for a 5 year old. I can’t convince her that Alex the Lion from Madagascar is a “girl’s toy”. She needs something in pink or at least with long hair. The cashier is equally adamant about NOT seeing the difference. So it’s almost always come out to me taking the extra minute or so to open up the Happy Meal box, checking the toy and then having another 2-3 minute conversation with the cashier to exchange the toy.

    I’ve also come to learn that they don’t even know what toy is in the box to begin with, at times.

    The reason why all of this becomes hard for me to accept is because of the social norms here that typically are okay with a gender discrimination. (Understandably so at times.) So it can’t be the social norms causing it. Perhaps the foreign franchise that is McDonald’s is keeping up with it’s western social norms, as it is with the rest of it’s uniform standards.

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  3. jblog says:

    Dude, you never use the drive-through at McDonalds.

    As that Zen philosopher-poet Joe Pesci once observed, “They SCREW YOU at the drive-through.”

    Exactly how is it discriminatory to ask someone what their preference is, provided they’ll give you whichever toy you request?

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  4. Caliban Darklock says:

    In the Seattle area, I am usually asked whether the meal is for a boy or a girl. If I am in the restaurant with the kids, they assume Logan is a boy and Conor is a girl. He has very pretty hair.

    I always check the toy to see whether it’s appropriate; the Nintendo-themed toys were magnet-based, and sometimes appeared that they would be frustrating for my children. (One toy was a magnetic Mario that you navigated up a cardboard maze-wall with a magnet held on the other side. This would have driven my kids bonkers.) I try to get two different toys, if possible. Sometimes that means one of them gets a girl toy, which they don’t really mind.

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  5. Jim S. says:

    Here in Arlington, VA, they started asking the “boy toy/girl toy” question at least a year ago. I now know to include that choice in the order, so I don’t get asked. Its “Happy meal, 4 pc nuggets, fries, chocolate milk, boy toy”. I usually drive through, including my last visit.

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  6. Chris says:

    are you getting paid for this advertisement ?

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  7. econobiker says:

    Divorced father (now re-married) of two sons age 6 and 8 who go to dinner each Wednesday night so I have much experience with the toy situation.

    1.With regard to toy choice, which comes closest to your experience:
    1. Fast food server didn’t ask any question about toy choice.
    The cashier could see I was standing with two boys age 6 and 8.
    2.If asked a toy-related question, how did you respond? Boy. [Always ask for boy gender toy even if my sons are not with me. That's right I eat kids' meals alone- mainly because the content of a modern kids' meal duplicates the size of an original adult meal from the 1960's.]

    3.If not asked a toy question, was it because the employee saw or heard your child and just gave what he thought was the gender-appropriate toy? Yes.

    4.What toy were you given? Boy gender toy- Monster truck (it was actually Burger King that we went to).

    5.Was your order placed at the counter or drive through? Always at counter.

    6.When and where (city and state) did the transaction take place? Nashville, TN region

    “How do you feel about these questions?”
    I frankly don’t give a hoot about them. My sons can start to become un-hinged if there is a really “cool” toy series in the toy shadowbox but the store has run out of them and is giving a different series out (usually leftovers) or giving a girl series out. So asking the questions is ok.

    Several times I have had to exchange one of the three toys we got because it is a girl toy or it was the more girlish toy of that toy series.

    When the usual McD’s at which my sons and I eat has run out of boy toys and we get girl toys, I have had my sons tell me to give them to someone else. I used to live next to a single father of three girls under age 12 (yes he was a saint) so it was fairly easy to pawn off sets of three girl Happy Meal toys then.

    If the girl toy is “cute” enough for an adult, several times my sons have brought one toy to their mother and I have brought one back to their step-mother. I sometimes leave the odd number out, still bagged girl-toy by the mailboxes at my apartment complex or ditch them with Goodwill donations

    I remember one time we got hammered with three Bratz (?) style girl figurines which (while I enjoyed the stripper-esque presentation) were very close to being left at the table or in the garbage. Then my elder son remembered that his 12 year old female cousin loved those and that he would be seeing her the next weekend so he took the still wrapped toys home to give to her.

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  8. Michael says:

    I really don’t understand your point. I too assume that the normal procedure “without sex discrimination” would be that the wrong toy will be brought back and has to be changed. This will bring down turn time for other customers.

    And where is the discrimination point? IF the customer knows the toys of the day he can answer that he wants the firetruck for his girl. Or the doll for his boy. (but some 20 years later, the doll boy might have a good lawyer who states that THIS incident had made him run havoc…) And if not, chance is that the average boy/girl will like the boy/girl toy and not the girl/boy toy…

    I wonder when you will state that the question about your shoe size in a shoe shop is a discrimination…

    *sigh*

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