Our Daily Bleg: Happy Meal Toys


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).

Already Been Blegged

75 ThumbnailHere’s what Freakonomics readers have been blegging for lately.

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. Doug Schoemer says:

    In the drive-thru (I like your correct-but-never-used spelling of this option), I am usually asked the question when there are 2 toy options, and since I have 2 young boys I appreciate being asked. Bratz dolls or something McDonald’s considers more “girlie” usually upset my boys. I go often enough that I often even preemptively say “two Happy Meals for boys” now when I order and see two toys on the board. I also usually am given the “right” toy. When ordering inside, I guess my boys are usually at the counter (and also obviously boys), because I am never asked this question.

    This in the Alexandria, VA, area, but also was the norm in upstate NY (Saratoga) where I lived until a few months ago.

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  2. Carol Lyn says:

    #1. “Toy for a girl or boy?”
    #2. “Girl”
    #3. N/A
    #4. A Barbie
    #5. Drive-thru
    #6. Amesbury, MA

    A “Happy Meal” for me is if they put the meal IN the bag without leaving out one of the components! Or getting french fries that weren’t cooked in the morning and left to “cool for the day “! Or the getting a straw IN the bag—nothing is more frustrating than to be driving down the road, having a drink, fumbling through the bag and realizing the girl who was flirting with one of her co-workers, had neglected to put a straw in the bag!!! Trying to drink through the perforated whole in the top and suck up the soda is a whole other story) So the “toy” part (and I have a collection of probably 1,000 un-opened Happy Meal toys–so I’ve been down this road A LOT) is pretty inconsequential.

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  3. adora says:

    They usually ask, “Is it for a boy or a girl?” Which I find troubling because “boy’s toys” are always better, more interactive and from more popular carton.
    What I do is to look over the toy display before I order.
    Sometimes, it is for myself…

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  4. Rich says:

    I’d have to agree with the McDs staff in Islamabad. Does it matter? When you consider the life of the very young woman (in all likelihood) in China who made it, whether it’s pink or has wheels seems to pale in comparison.

    Yes I’m a parent, and no I haven’t been to McDs or similar in 20 years.

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  5. kip says:

    The last time I ordered a Happy Meal was probably about 20 years ago. However I wanted to comment on this statement- “several states prohibit sex discrimination at public accommodations”

    Are there states where it is really illegal to have a separate bathrooms? Changing rooms? Is it even illegal for Wal-Mart to have a “boy’s” and a “girl’s” department? Is it illegal for a barber shop to have different rates for men’s and women’s haircuts?

    Is there any precedent for extending laws intended to prevent discrimination to these kinds of socially accepted gender distinctions?

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  6. J says:

    When did we become so easily offended as a society? McDonald’s tries to please its customers by offering a choice of toys, and it’s called “discrimination.”

    The fact is that little boys and little girls are two different demographics, usually with different tastes. If you’ve ever been in a toy store, you know this.

    McDonald’s can ignore that fact and give everybody toys that are designed to appeal to everyone (and thus thrill no one). Or they can offer a choice and let people order a “cross-gender” toy if they want.

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  7. Zoltan says:

    whoanellie’s approach is right on. The idea that only some toys are good for either gender perpetuates stereotypes that are harmful to our kids. Give the kids the option of the type of toy instead of some marketer’s screwed-up idea of an intended gender.

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  8. --E says:

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

    –>Asking a preference isn’t discriminatory. Tagging gender onto it can offend people who don’t want to shove their kids into gender roles quite so early in their lives. Phrased as “boy toy or girl toy?”, the question reinforces the notion that certain items are inappropriate for certain genders. It falsely implies exclusion.

    Note that “inappropriate” =/= “less commonly preferred.” It may be true that more girls will choose a pink princess doll over a toy truck, but there’s nothing inappropriate with a little girl wanting to play with a truck.

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