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Our Daily Bleg: Happy Meal Toys—A Commentary by Ian Ayres ’86

The following commentary was published in The New York Times on February 11, 2009.

Our Daily Bleg: Happy Meal Toys
By Ian Ayres ’86

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).

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.