Why McDonald's 'McGangBang' Is Free From Calorie-Count Requirements

Only-by-Request Gut-Busters Avoid Fast-Food Regulations

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"Could we get two 'McGangBang' sandwiches, please?" Two Ad Age reporters ventured into a midtown Manhattan McDonald's to order this custom item -- an unholy meeting between a McChicken and a double cheeseburger.

McGangBang crossbreeds McChicken and Big Mac.
McGangBang crossbreeds McChicken and Big Mac.
While the McDonald's employee didn't know exactly what we wanted, he didn't bat an eye. After asking us to describe the sandwich, he called over a supervisor to code the order in. The cost: $7. In keeping with his willingness to allow customization, he then asked us if we'd like the chicken grilled or crispy.

The "McGangBang" is just part of a larger trend. Plenty has been written about everything from Starbucks' superindulgent Double Cream Frappuccino to Burger King's monstrous Suicide Burger, but why can these fat-tastic foods sidestep regulations requiring their calorie counts be posted?

Because these are "secret" menu items, not listed anywhere inside the actual restaurants, the marketers don't have to post how many calories each has. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's laws apply to menu items that are "listed or displayed on a menu board or menu ... that is visible within the food-service establishment." According to those rules, secret menu items are exempt -- as are limited-time menu offerings.

While some of these items might have been the product of an overzealous customer's imagination and weren't necessarily created by the marketers themselves, they're still providing plenty of earned media for the companies.

Chipotle over time has garnered buzz online -- on everywhere from Twitter to BuzzFeed -- particularly for a conglomeration known as the Quesarito, a burrito wrapped in a cheese quesadilla that racks up a whopping 1,500 calories. But the chain maintains that there is no official secret menu.

"What there is, is a culture where employees are taught to make what they can with the ingredients we have [within reason] if customers ask," said spokesman Chris Arnold. "But we don't have a secret menu or even common vocabulary for these kinds of things, so if customers order something specific that they have seen somewhere online, it is entirely possible that they will be met with blank stares as our people may have no idea what they are talking about."

While Taco Bell does acknowledge there are customer-generated secret menu items, the list of popular secret items is relatively short. Some 60% of Taco Bell orders are customized in some fashion, so the chain views itself as having few actual secret menu items because customers simply say what they want. Rob Poetsch, spokesman for Taco Bell, said that one of the most-recent trends in customization at Taco Bell is using the Doritos Locos Tacos shell in a Cheesy Gordita Crunch. "Our consumers are a creative group, and they are looking for meals exactly the way they want them, which is why customization is popular at Taco Bell."

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