For a couple years in the mid-90s, I worked as a "manager" at McDonalds. Stuff was too weird not to share someday.
When McDonalds released the Arch Deluxe back in 1996, there was much great fanfare about how it was the new "adult" choice for McDonalds customers. In fact, McDonalds had a whole new adult line of burgers, including the Crispy Chicken Deluxe, the Fish Filet Deluxe, and the Grilled Chicken Deluxe. The Arch Deluxe was the only genuinely new sandwich, however, since the others were mostly existing sandwiches with upgraded lettuce on potato buns.
First off, I gotta say that even though I worked at McDonalds at the time, the Arch Deluxe was (in my opinion) actually pretty good. I don't mean "good for McDonalds" good, but actually good, like the kind of food I would seek out. It is many ways a shame that the Arch Deluxe did not survive, but the disgusting clay mush known as the Quarter Pounder w/ Cheese is still around. Then again, I had the advantage of actually working at McDonalds. That meant that instead of buying one of the five minute old burgers in the food bin (I'm being optimistic here) I'd special order mine. I'd even ask for fresh meat. Seriously, McDonalds employees hate people like that, but I hated most of them already anyway.
We'd been readying ourselves for the Arch Deluxe for quite some time at McDonalds. Most of us got the chance to eat one before they debuted, and many of us agreed they were very good. There was a lot of excitement in the air. And then finally the big day arrived.
It was crazy. It was crazy even for McDonalds, which back in the 90s was much crazier than it is now. It wasn't abnormal for us to have forty people in the lobby waiting to order. We often would have four or five people taking orders, and the food was served lightning quick (since it was mostly all pre-made.) But the Arch Deluxe launch was insane. Nearly every single person was ordering at least one Arch Deluxe. That Sunday's newspaper had announced the new burger, and included a coupon for a FREE Arch Deluxe. Nearly everyone was taking advantage of the offer.
Orders started to slow down after a few days, but the Arch Deluxe was still a very popular burger. It was hard to keep up with demand. The burger was a true success. There was just one problem.
Nobody was paying for it. Almost all of the burgers sold the first week were free giveaways. But it got worse. Customers were being given free coupons for more Arch Deluxes every time they ordered. We had thousands and thousands of the things. It was getting ridiculous. Finally, after three weeks of giving away our most expensive burger, we put a stop to the whole mess. We couldn't afford to keep giving the things away.
And then something interesting happened. Demand literally dried up. Where as our bin full of pre-made food would often have up to 12 Arch Deluxes at any given time, now they might have two, and even those probably wouldn't be sold.
The Arch Deluxe was a flop. Part of the problem centered around the notion that McDonalds can ever attract a more adult, even upscale clientele. Part of the problem is that the Arch Deluxe was probably the most unhealthy food ever sold at McDonalds. By unhealthy I mean just in terms of calories, fat, and sodium content... I'm not counting what horrible effects the food will probably have on us twenty years from now. The regular version, without bacon, had 960 milligrams of sodium. Yes, that's almost a full gram. Adding bacon increased the burger to 1190. That same burger was a 610 calorie behemoth, with a whopping 36 grams of fat.
In my opinion, the Arch Deluxe didn't fail because it didn't taste good. It failed because it was sold at the wrong restaurant. Who goes to McDonalds for high-quality food? The Arch Deluxe featured some unique and tasty ingredients that made it taste better than usual McDonalds fare, but it still used the same frozen quarter pound of beef used in the Quarter Pounder. It still used the same slice of cheese found on every other burger sold at the Golden Arches. It still was mass produced and left in a bin to keep warm until some unfortunate soul purchased it. (Once the orders dropped off, this had to have made the burger even less popular!) It was still being made by the same greasy high school kids that made your cheeseburger.
The Arch Deluxe might have succeeded somewhere else. It might have made it at Wendy's. It might have been a good candidate for a place like Arby's. It could have succeeded at a place that actually cares about quality, like In-N-Out. The truth is the gourmet chef hired to create the Arch Deluxe created something that was too good for McDonalds. It was too good for McDonalds to handle, and once America had tried it, they didn't want to try it again.