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).

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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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


A few days ago I went thru the Drive-thru and ordered two happy meals, for my boys. I was not asked a toy question. There were two toys in each of the meals. A Hello Kitty watch, and an electronic sports game. I gave my boys the sports games, and gave the watches to a friend, who has a girl. I live in Orlando, Fl.

During previous visits to the same Mcdonalds, I have been asked toy questions. Usually the question asked is, "Is this for a boy or girl?" And I respond "Boy". Whenever the question is not asked, I assume that they only have one toy in stock.


Since the only time I'm ordering Happy Meals is for myself (eating on a diet, need the normal amount of food that they consider only appropriate for a child, the "normal" meals are more food than a human should eat in a DAY, not even getting started on the SuperSize crap)...

I always get the boy's toy, because it's always MUCH more fun than whatever they're hawking for the girl's toy. I have a basketful of them in my cube at work! :)

Craig L

Parent of a boy and a girl in Arkansas. The question is usually "boy or girl?" after ordering the meal. I usually get the toy requested. I am not offended, and like others sometimes opt for the same toy to avoid controversy.

Two related economics questions you didn't ask -- 1. Logistics. I'm always amazed at the ability of fast food companies to combine a hamburger, cheese, various sauces, pickles, french fries, a soft drink, cups, paper, and a toy (always shipped from China) into a cardboard box that is sold for $3 - $4. The economics of the logicstics of getting the toy from China to rural Arkansas at a cost of pennies is unfathonable to me.

Second question -- like a couple of other posters, I will admit to ordering the child's meal for myself occasionally (but only through the drive-through). This is because my standard previous order (6 nuggets, drink, fries) has been expanded by inflation on the adult menu to 10 nuggets and an additional $2. It remains on the child's menu for $3 or so. (McDonalds does this with other products -- the medium drink was for years, the "large" drink.). There has to be an economics case study somewhere in there about the dangers v. rewards of having a discount child's menu.



I worked at a Corporate McDonalds in Hawaii, and When we had "gender-specific" toys we were told in no uncertain terms that saying anything with regard to a boy or girl toy was unacceptable.

For example, we were told to ask, during a mattel promotion, to ask if they wanted a barbie, or a hot wheels toy. Which to be completely honest, takes as long to say as a boy or girl toy. Perhaps Hawaii is a state which forbids gender discrimination or whether there is corporate policy which forbids it. In reality corporate McDonalds rigorously enforce corporate policies while franchised establishments do not.

However, I would tend to believe that there is no corporate policy on this. Everything at McDonalds is designed to get a customer their food quickly. Being asked if you want an apple pie, fries, a drink, or a sundae is not simply to get you to buy more food, but most of the time, you know that you don't want it, so you will say no, thus ending your order. Asking, is that all, or would you like anything else, makes most people think for a few moments about the menu, making the order take longer. The boy or girl toy question is probably the same deal, if you ask if the toy is for a boy or girl, parents immediately answer the question, if they ask barbie or hot wheels, they'll think for a moment while they visualize the toy, etc. That being said, in the year that I worked there, I never gave a barbie to a boy, except when high school students would order happy meals after school (it is actually very cheap for the food you get since there are free refills), and ordered barbie toys for their friends as jokes.

Just my insight on how McDonalds operates.


Stacy B

My experience was closest to #1... I wasn't asked about the toy at the counter in Jeffersonville, OH. My toddler received 2 toys that I didn't really think were age appropriate. There's another angle!

He got a wind-up mosquito and a fighter-chicken thing that kicks. I thought both were ridiculous, but he's kind of fascinated by the mosquito.


McDonald's asked if the happy meal was for a boy or a girl.
I said it was for a boy
I was given a star wars bobble head toy.
The order was placed at the drive through.
Rockford, IL


I buy Happy Meals for myself because a full size meal is a ridiculously large amount of food. Sometimes I get a perplexed look because there is no kid with me, but I typically get the girl toy by default. I don't think I've ever been asked which toy I want.


1. #3 "For a boy or a girl?"
2. When the kids were younger and I was more politically active, I would say "the Hot Wheels Toy" or whichever they wanted, and purposely not mention gender. Now I figure if I'm at McDs, I sort of get what I deserve and I usually have no ideas what the toys are anyway. I just say boy.
3,4,5. If we're inside, they don't ask; if we're in the drive through, they do.
6. Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Alaska; Reno, Nev.; Montgomery, Birmingham, Ala.; Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and many cities and states passed through on the way to and from these places.

John Brennan

Get over it. There are more important things to freak out about.

When I order a happy meal I ask for the girl's toy--because that is what my daughter wants. I don't wait for them to ask me--its part of my order.



#11 James- I thought that too about the cougars and "boy toys." As a divorced man, I did like going to McDs the Wednesdays there seemed to be a girls dance class nearby which emptied out and had their mothers bringing the dancers to the store prior to going home...

#15 Luke- I wondered how long it would take before the nutritian issue arrose. I will provide my address so you can send me the extra $20 it will cost to take my children to Cracker Barrell for a better meal each week.

#18 Carol Lyn: Save for your retirement, some of the original Happy meal toys are worth bucks to collectors...

#20 Rich- I have been working on educating my children about global commerce and fair wages in order to wean them from the happy meal toys eventually. Please send your complaint to our government for allowing easy import of slave wage manufactured goods- not just happy meal toys- but have the stuff in Walmart, etc



I ordered a happy meal for myself (I'm 26) a few days ago. I drove through and they asked "what kind of toy" I'd like, to which I replied that I didn't need a toy.

1. With regard to toy choice, which comes closest to your experience:
2. The toy-choice question didn't mention the child's gender (for example, "Do you want the Digisports or the Hello Kitty toy?").
2. If asked a toy-related question, how did you respond? No toy needed.
4. What toy were you given? None
5. Was your order placed at the counter or drive through? Drive through
6. When and where (city and state) did the transaction take place? Madison, WI


They usually ask me if I want a boy or girl toy and no it does not bother me, because honestly, 99% of the time, girls want the girly toys and boys want the cars and whatever (most of the time).

If asked a toy-related question, how did you respond? I respond with language they understand - boy toy or girl toy.

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? - no, because they forgot or were lazy probably - we use the drive through mostly. Usually we place the order like this "I'd like a cheesburger happy meal with a girl toy" since this is the language they use here.

Was your order placed at the counter or drive through? Usually drive through.

When and where (city and state) did the transaction take place? Albany, Georgia

Also, I eat the happy meals, too, because I love the girl toys :) My daughter and I got Hello Kitty watches yesterday!


David T

I am usually asked if the meal is for a boy or a girl, but the toy I actually receive isn't necessarily what I asked for. Sometimes, we just get old toys that they are just trying to get rid of.

I could ask what the actual toys are, but they often don't know and it takes them too long to check, so I don't bother. Instead, I check the toys that I actually get and, if there has been a mistake or either the boy or girl toy is lame, I'll ask for a replacement. If necessary, I'll bring it back next time and ask for a replacement.

I think the better question is: How much extra do we end up paying for all the useless toys and are people really more likely to buy from McDonalds just to get the toy? Would we be more likely to buy if we didn't have to pay for the toy every time?


At a drive through at a certain Mcdonalds in OH, I was asked "Do you want a toy?". The question took me by surprise. "Isn't a toy standard with a happy meal?" I asked. I was told that it was actually optional. I asked how much to toy was. I was told 60 cents. I told them I didn't want it. Which I didn't because I have been hiding the fact from my daughter (5 yrs old) that a toy exists in her happy meal. I typically remove the toy before I pass the happy meal to my daughter in the back seat. She later receives these toys as bribes for finishing her meals or whatever else. She's suspicious...but hey...

Previously at this same drive through, the question "is this for a boy or girl" is asked maybe 50% of the times I've been there. "Do you want a toy?" was totally new and I still don't understand what that was about. Perhaps a grumpy employee.


1. 4. McDonald's offered the choice of a boy's toy or a girl's toy.
2. If asked a toy-related question, how did you respond?
4. What toy were you given?
A small electronic game
5. Was your order placed at the counter or drive through?
6. When and where (city and state) did the transaction take place? Guelph, ON (might be outside your requested data)


1. McDonald's didn't ask any question about toy choice - I enthusiastically asked for the "Hello Kitty" toy watch.
2. 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? It was more because I volunteered the answer.
3. I got a totally sweet Little Twin Stars watch
4. Drive-through
5. Madison, WI last night around 7 p.m.

...Have I mentioned that the toy was definitely for me, I read online that they had "Hello Kitty" watches, decided to get a kid's meal just for the prize, and that I'm a law student in my mid-twenties?

For what it's worth, as a budding 5-year-old feminist in the late 80s, I steadfastly insisted that they give me the "boy toy" on PRINCIPLE. (I've loosened up a bit these days - you can be a feminist and still get really excited about "Hello Kitty" watches.)