Throughout the pandemic, we’ve discussed all the ways that the supply chain can be affected by unforeseen global shifts, and often these disruptions produce a ripple effect you wouldn’t necessarily expect. For instance, last summer’s craft beer supply was threatened not by a shortage of hops or brewery employees, but by a shortage of aluminum cans. And fast food suppliers have been repeatedly hamstrung by the rising cost of refrigerated truck deliveries. Now, another shortage might be looming: the number of paper bags is dwindling at McDonald’s.
Report Door explains that franchise owners were sent an email by McDonald’s corporate in late July warning that the business could be facing a paper bag shortage. And it’s not just McDonald’s; since March 2020, the entire fast food industry has shifted a majority of its business to takeout, drive-thru, and delivery—business models that require more paper packaging than dining in. If a customer orders their food “for here,” meanwhile, they are typically supplied a tray for their meal rather than a bag. However, during the early stages of the pandemic when surface contact was the big bugbear, trays went away and even dine-in orders, wherever dining rooms were open, switched over to bags. As such, the nationwide bag supply has been strained.
McDonald’s is encouraging its franchises to switch back to trays to ride out this potential paper bag shortage. The Wall Street Journal reports that many employees who started working for the fast food chain during the pandemic have never had to deal with trays, and the logistics of adding them into the ordering process has been tricky because it’s been so long since McDonald’s has used them. But hopefully it makes a measurable difference, especially as the number of dine-in customers ticks back up. McDonald’s noted in its email to franchise owners that the bag shortage should only have a minimal impact on individual locations. “We are confident customers should not see disruption,” it said.
In a separate statement to The Takeout, McDonald’s had this to say: “Despite temporary pressures in the industry, the impact to restaurants is minimal. Based on what we know today, we are confident customers should not see disruption to supply of bags or straws. We will continue to watch closely.”
Switching back to trays makes a lot of sense to me; A tray is not only an efficient way of carrying lots of food, but when you don’t have a crumpled-up bag sitting on your tabletop, there’s a lot of valuable real estate freed up for extra cups of ketchup. Without a bag, I suppose you lose the flexibility of getting up and leaving whenever you wish, toting a half-eaten Big Mac and a carton of fries along with you for the car ride. But the idea of McDonald’s leftovers is so foreign to me that I’d be fine sticking to just a tray while waiting for the paper bag supply chain to level out.
One other looming shortage could be trickier to solve for: plastic straws. McDonald’s email also mentioned that straw suppliers were having difficulty keeping factories staffed and sourcing enough resin to make the product, so McDonald’s will be temporarily limiting its purchases of straws. Consider bringing your own reusable one next time you have a hankering for a fountain soda, just in case.