Broken ice cream machines at McDonald’s restaurants have long been the source of frustration for customers and comedy in memes, but a new lawsuit alleges that McDonald’s stood in the way of technology that would fix the machines.
Kytch Inc., the plaintiff in the case, was created in 2018 by Melissa Nelson and Jeremy O’Sullivan, who wanted to create an app that would help restaurant owners fix the ice cream machines, The New York Times reported. The app was designed to translate the often difficult-to-interpret error codes on the machines, manufactured by Taylor, in a way that allowed employees to fix the problem, CBS News reported.
“We thought we were the solution,” O’Sullivan told The New York Times.
In its lawsuit, Kytch said that McDonald’s and Taylor first tried to access proprietary information in an effort to create similar technology, before then “fabricat(ing) bogus ‘safety’ claims to mislead Kytech’s customers into believing that safety testing determined that the Kytech Solution would cause ‘serious human injury’ to users — claims that are, and that McDonald’s and Taylor both knew at the time to be, demonstrably false.”
McDonald’s ice cream machines have a history of breaking down, with the fast-food giant even acknowledging the problem in a 2020 tweet.
A customer frustrated by the broken ice cream machines created McBroken, a website that maps which McDonald’s locations have functional ice cream machines.
The chain’s ice cream struggles have also caught the attention of the United States Federal Trade Commission, which reached out to McDonald’s franchisees last summer looking for information about why the machines are so frequently broken.
The lawsuit also alleges that McDonald’s and Taylor threatened to void the warranties on all ice cream machines if Kytch’s technology was used. When McDonald’s told all 13,000 of its franchises to stop using Kytch in late 2020, warning the device could cause injury, Kytch lost nearly all of its business and was forced to shut down, CBS News reported.
“McDonald’s conduct was intended to intimidate and scare Kytch’s customers and prospective customers into ceasing to do business with Kytch and to instead adopt Taylor’s forthcoming competing product or to continue using Taylor’s and TFG’s costly replacement parts and repair services at an astronomical and unnecessary rate,” attorneys for Kytch said in the lawsuit.
McDonald’s declined an interview request from CBS News but said via email that the Kytch device is “unauthorized equipment” that was never submitted to the company for safety testing.
In an emailed statement, McDonald’s USA said, “Kytch has spun a sensational story lacking basic facts. The truth is this all comes down to safety. We have high standards in place for all equipment in our restaurants, and we owe it to our customers, crew and franchisees to work with fully vetted suppliers who meet those standards.”
The company also said via email that it has filed a motion to dismiss the case, and that franchisees have the option to buy shake machines from manufacturers other than Taylor, as long as they meet the company’s specifications and requirements.