When McDonald’s Tried Doing Pasta in the Early ’90s

McDonald’s has tried a lot of off-the-wall menu items in their time. Some are fondly remembered like the McD.L.T., and others are still scorned to this day (I’m looking at you here Arch Deluxe). But a few products have come along that most of the population totally missed out on, and McPasta was one of them.

In 1990, McDonald’s decided they would try to add some entrees to their menu that weren’t hamburgers or Chicken McNuggets in hopes of bringing in more dinner time business. They dreamed up this concept of McPasta dishes and roasted chicken and felt sure it would be a big hit. Before they released it to the masses though, they went the test market route.

A small area in New York was selected, some stores in Ohio, and a chain of franchise stores in Northeast Tennessee for this new line of McPasta products. Fortunately, I lived in a part of southern Virginia where that Tennessee-based franchisee had two locations, and they put the product in those two stores as well.

What they offered was a selection of Spaghetti, Spaghetti with Meatballs, Lasagna, and Fettuccine Alfredo. Each dish came with a garlic breadstick as well. They also decided to offer tender roasted chicken as a side item, as well as mashed potatoes. How those last two items fit into the McPasta lineup I’ve yet to figure out. I guess it didn’t have to fit the “pasta” side of things, as it fell into the overall “dinner” category they were going for.

To be honest, the only one I ever tried was the Fettuccine…..and I thought it was awesome! For the six-month period they were testing the line in my area, it’s what I ordered on every trip to the golden arches. My Mom loved it too, and since my Dad was out-of-town a lot, she felt it was easier to just run to McDonald’s and pick up a couple of Fettuccine platters for the two of us instead of cooking, so I got to have the pasta goodness a lot.

Imagine my sadness one day when I went to order my favorite McPasta dish only to be told it was no longer available. I listened in horror as the lady at the counter relayed the info to my Mom and me that it had been a test product, and she had no way of knowing if it would be added back to the menu or not.

As the weeks and months passed by, I would continue to inquire about it on every trip to Happy Meal land. And every time I was disappointed. After a while, I came to the sad conclusion that McPasta wasn’t coming back at all.

For years I reminisced about it, only to find it strange when other people had no idea what the heck I was talking about. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why no one had even heard of McDonald’s McPasta. Then one day it popped into my brain and I searched it out on the internet. It was there that I discovered that it had been a test product with just a very limited release, and that’s why everyone thought I was crazy when I would bring it up.

Here is a transcript of an article from the Aug. 04, 1992 edition of the Chicago Tribune detailing the end of the test. And if you read it all the way through, you’ll see mention of their pizza being tested at the time as well:

McDonald`s has decided to give test-marketing of pasta and tender-basted chicken a breather.

Those dinner-menu items have been yanked from test markets in New York and Tennessee, where 70 of the fast-service firm`s 8,700 domestic stores were involved in gauging consumer response.

McDonald`s stock on the New York Stock Exchange took it on the chin Monday, dropping $1.12 to close at $42.75 on news of the pullout.

Wall Street analysts were unimpressed with McDonald`s decision to return the pasta, including lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and fettucine alfredo; and chicken, including chicken breast, to test kitchens at its Oak Brook headquarters. However, McDonald`s didn`t think this pullback was any big deal, considering the small scope of the test.

Still in an expanded ”test market” program is McDonald`s pizza, now available in 500 units around the country.

A McDonald`s spokesman Monday said that there was ”good consumer acceptance” for the chicken and pasta, but that other considerations were involved, such as source of supply and equipment, which the firm still is evaluating.

There may be some substance to this rationale because the pizza was taken out of test markets several times before the current test.

McDonald`s does have a presence in chicken, including a McChicken sandwich, chicken McNuggets and a chunky chicken salad, but all are priced substantially less than the chicken that was tested.

Like other fast-service firms, McDonald`s has been scrambling to expand the menu, especially at dinner time, which is a longer period than lunch, to build traffic.

Though hamburger champ McDonald`s didn`t say so, the pasta and tender-basted chicken might have been too pricey for consumers. In any event, chicken and pasta have been put on the back burner for ”tinkering” for possible re-entry no earlier than next year.


To this day I miss that McPasta Fettuccine. But now I look back and realize that the stars were aligned perfectly for me to even have gotten to experience it in the first place. Some say it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. But for those people who say that to them, I say they never loved McDonald’s Fettuccine Alfredo.

If you’ve got a junk food question, junk food memory, or just want to share an observation of your own, feel free to drop me a line at junkfoodfiles@gmail.com. And you can always find me on Twitter posting about both old and new junk food, as well as other random geeky stuff. Stop by there and say hello as well.

Mickey

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Sometimes referred to as The Retro Rambler...I was born in the '70s, grew up in the '80s, and came of age in the '90s. I love to share all the fun stuff from those years via articles and videos, and occasionally make un-needed appearances on various podcasts. I can also catch quarters off my elbow. Email to book me for your next corporate event.

1 Comment

  1. I never got to try McPizza OR McPasta in my neck of the woods at the time (NC). I’m not sure about the pasta, but I hear McPizza made it all the way up here to Canada, too!

    The whole tactic reminds me of the table service Burger King offered in the early ’90s, which I’m happy to say I did get to try, and rather enjoyed. I was similarly disappointed when that program ended.

    Would still love to try McDonald’s take on some of this stuff, though.

    Oh, and no dissing the Arch Deluxe. ;P That was a favorite of mine, and I still want them to bring it back, even if it’s just dressing up the Quarter Pounder with the sauce. (I even started a fast food Facebook group named after it, though that went nowhere and I’m barely on FB any more, anyway.)

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