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McDonald's all-day breakfast, explained — and debated

McDonald's has had its best idea yet. Or is it the worst?
McDonald's has had its best idea yet. Or is it the worst?
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

After years of its customers speculating, raising hopes, and embarking on inevitably doomed late-night quests, McDonald's has finally relented. It will officially start serving its breakfast menu 24 hours a day beginning October 6.

All-day breakfast has been a work in progress all year. McDonald's locations in San Diego started test runs back in March to see how feasible serving McMuffins at all hours truly is, and kept expanding from there. McDonald's told the Wall Street Journal that an "extremely high" percentage of franchisees voted in favor of the menu change, and so begins the nationwide rollout.

What is McDonald's breakfast?

McDonald's breakfast is a state of mind.

More specifically, though, the McDonald's breakfast menu is a selection of breakfast sandwiches, limited "healthy" options like fruit-and-yogurt parfaits, and the occasional hotcake and/or burrito. When McDonald's introduced its signature Egg McMuffin in 1979, it became the first fast-food franchise in the country to offer breakfast at all.

Serving breakfast all day is a major change. Currently, McDonald's breakfast is only available from about 5 to 11 in the morning. (The hours are slightly flexible depending on location.) This has caused consternation among customers who forget there's a cutoff for their Egg McMuffins, and also those who are up late but not late enough to make it to a 5 am sausage burrito.

CNBC reports that the all-day breakfast menu will be simplified, at least at first. There will be different menus for two different markets, known in layman's terms as the "McMuffin Market" and the "Biscuit Market."

Why is McDonald's doing this?

McDonald's knows you enjoy breakfast. And though there might be some really altruistic junior operations manager who genuinely believes that the joy people get from Egg McMuffins makes the world a better place, the reality is that McDonald's just wants to make money.

In December last year, the company announced that sales had declined 2.2 percent around the world, and 4.6 percent in the US market. McDonald's has to figure out how to make back the money it's losing. To do that, it's started incorporating new sandwiches, like a buttermilk fried chicken creation. Boosting breakfast to full-time is another move that McDonald's hopes will bring people back to the stores and get sales up again.

What do McDonald's customers think of the change?

It depends on whom you ask. McDonald's breakfast is apparently a subject that inspires much passion, including among Vox writers. We asked two of them to explain their opposing views on the change.

Alex:

McDonald's is ignoring a crucial component of its breakfast: scarcity.

The reason McDonald's breakfast is a vaunted gastronomic treasure is that you could only procure it during a certain window of time. McD's breakfast is something you have to will your body and mind to obtain. It's as much an accomplishment as it is a meal.

Releasing precious breakfast items like the sausage burrito or the Sausage McMuffin into the wild takes away their specialness. It's the McDonald's equivalent of a participation medal. We just couldn't be bothered to get up early enough — literally the only thing that McDonald's breakfast asked us to do — to go to a place that serves food all day.

This upsetting trend calls into question other McDonald's mainstays like the Shamrock Shake or the McRib. What happens if ye olde Shamrock is served all year round instead of just in March? What if we could just order the glorious McRib whenever we wanted? These items, like McDonald's (once) cherished breakfast specialties, would lose their magic.

The switch to an all-day breakfast also nullifies the best thing Adam Sandler has ever contributed to popular culture:

If I were Adam Sandler I'd probably be upset that McDonald's desire for more money has erased the most astute and relevant observation of my career (Sandler co-wrote Big Daddy's screenplay). Alas, I am not Sandler, but I'm still not ready to live in this world of McD's all-day breakfast.

Caroline:

Or: Offering all-day breakfast means that McDonald's is restoring your right to decide when you want an egg sandwich, even if that time is 2 am and you probably know better.

Some view the now-ubiquitous "breakfast for dinner" wave as an outdated culinary trend on par with throwing a fried egg on everything. That's fair, but let us not forget that these trends happened for a reason: They're delicious. It's high time McDonald's cut the shit and let us enjoy its best menu whenever we want.

I acknowledge that I'm probably biased in favor of all-day breakfast, because I grew up in suburban New Jersey where 24-hour diners are sacrosanct. In my relentlessly square youth, there was nothing more comforting than getting my friends together to eat breakfast at weird hours. No matter what time we got to the diner, breakfast sandwiches were always appropriate. They were even encouraged, because honestly, the odds that someone messes up an egg sandwich are far lower than those of getting a rubbery burger.

Once I moved away from all-hours diners and even Dunkin' Donuts, I searched for all-hours breakfast anywhere I could — and yes, that mostly meant diving into fast food. I've tried breakfast options at more drive-thrus than I care to admit (or, more accurately, more drive-thrus than I can count). McDonald's, even with its unnaturally round egg patties, still has the best breakfast by a long shot. I don't know why. Those egg patties really are the weirdest.

Related: McDonald's food is mostly trash. But McDonald's breakfast has never been trash. Holding out on us, therefore, was cruel. So yeah, breaking down the walls of set breakfast hours is a blatant cash grab. But it's also a long-overdue public service.