Famous for coming up with some funky ideas from time to time, fast-food franchises have treated our palate with new concoctions. Some of them made headlines for all the right reasons, while others kept us wondering “What were they thinking?”.
Top fast food fails
We’ll go through some of the greatest food flops and failed fast-food menu additions for what could have easily been described as some grossest fast food ideas, along with some absolutely satisfying and soul-pleasing ones that give life a more joyful twist!
#1 The black burgers & tacos
There was a time not long ago when major fast-food chains like Taco Bell decided to launch tacos that could have been a good idea… for Halloween. The Black Jack Taco came into being in 2009 and featured the classic Taco Bell beef, cheese, lettuce, and sauce in a pitch-black shell. Consumers hated the odd-colored taco, which eventually forced the company to pull it from the menu.
However, this is not the last time we have heard of black buns. One of Japan’s biggest fast-food restaurants came forward with the Black Ninja Burger, which was also not greeted with enthusiasm. Although it could have pleased our taste buds if the patty was replaced with its lighter-colored version (the rest of this food party – lettuce, hash browns, mayonnaise, and a colossal piece of Canadian bacon – are pretty okay).
#2 The fully loaded
Going larger was eventually a failed food trend that several fast-food restaurants followed at some point in time. Take Burger King, for example, which came out with a gigantic omelette sandwich that consisted of eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, and cheese on a sesame seed roll. And, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with ingredients, it seems that people thought that the egg in the sandwich was just too much for them.
That aside, the enormous omelette sandwich had 1940 milligrams of sodium and 330 milligrams of cholesterol – not exactly the type of healthy breakfast. Although discontinued in the US, the Omelet Sandwich is still available in some international markets.
The same scenario was with Tex-Mex fast-food chain that thought it would take the world by storm with its fully loaded nachos. Loads of melted cheese, tons of meat, and various toppings did not manage to steal consumers’ hearts. That being said, though, the Internet is thriving with Tex-Mex-style Nachos recipes from 2014 and onwards. Maybe the timing was not right for Tex-Mex!
And, let us not forget the 100X100 flop that has been tied with the In-N-Out Burger chain. The chain, which offers cooked-to-order food, has menu options like the 3X3 burger (3 beef patties and 3 slices of cheese on a single bun) and the 4X4 burger (4 beef patties, 4 slices of cheese, and the highest cheese to meat ratio). Also, available options include the 6X6 and 8X8 (not officially).
So, basically, you can have your burger prepared in any way you wish. Unfortunately, eight customers ordered a 100X100 (and got it) on Halloween 2004 and ruined it for everybody else. This incident brought unwanted attention to this top fast-food chain, which had to face issues related to a damage control policy that did not allow the making of burgers larger than 4X4.
#3 It’s a chicken matter!
A few years ago, McDonald’s thought it was about time to revamp its chicken game, and for that reason, it introduced the bone-in Mighty Wings. Besides being too expensive, the new addition to the menu was also unappetizing and way too spicy for the majority of consumers. So, it didn’t take long before the biggest food chain in the US pulled the plug.
McDonald’s fans were also heartbroken for the second time the same year, after the popular fast food restaurant took down Chicken Selects, a superb alternative to McNuggets, after a great nine-year run.
#4 Let’s talk gourmet!
The gourmet movement started with Wendy’s – an eatery famous for its milkshakes and hamburgers – which decided to branch out the gourmet-like artisan Frescata sandwiches and foods in 2006, like the club, ham, roasted turkey, cheese, and chicken salad.
It turned out to be a fast-food fail as people clearly preferred to get their sandwiches from Subway – another American fast food restaurant franchise then renowned for its submarine sandwiches and salads (however, it also has its own share of complaints from unhappy customers – see Subway reviews). Apart from people’s dislike of the new menu item, the famous eatery also had to battle against a rising number of Wendy’s reviews that spoke of its poor food quality.
Some seven years later, McDonald’s also attempted to introduce fancier and what the company described as “higher quality” menu items. After its former major flop – the Arch Deluxe burger – in 1996, McDonald’s decided to give gourmet items another try in 2013. The Sirloin Third-Pound burger was rolled out and was quickly removed within that same year while it was relaunched in 2015, also unsuccessfully.
People in the late 1900s were unwilling to pay extra for fancier ingredients like cherry tomatoes and peppered bacon. It appears that their feelings have remained the same ever since.
Another attempt to introduce more gourmet menu items was made in 2014, when Pizza Hut, one of the biggest fast-food companies, attempted a huge rebrand targeting mainly millennials. It changed its marketing strategy and began offering fancy, artisan pizzas (i.e. honey Sriracha sauce, Asiago crust, and Peruvian cherry peppers).
Not only did millennials reject the new menu, but the company suffered a significant loss in sales because of its turn to more sophisticated tastes. Less than a year later, the plug was pulled on this new endeavor, and Pizza Hut, fortunately, went back to its mainstream menu options.
#5 The strange concepts
Starting with Frito Burrito, a Taco Bell idea that wanted the classic chili-cheese burrito to be upped by adding Frito’s chips to the mix. So far, so good, especially if you lived in the southwestern US. For those that didn’t, though, this was definitely a bizarre concept. Nevertheless, although the particular menu item is no longer available, there are many fans that still swear by it and find some comfort in Sonic’s Fritos Chili Cheese Wrap that debuted in 2009.
Another strange concept came from McDonald’s in the 1960s. The Hula Burger was Ray Kroc’s idea of a meatless sandwich that could appeal to devote Catholics that didn’t eat meat during Lent and/or on Fridays. So, instead of making a veggie burger, the company decided to replace the beef patty with pineapple slices.
What made this burger even more unappetizing was the addition of cheese. The Hula Burger never became a thing. It was either too exotic or simply one of the grossest fast food menu items people had tasted back then.
#6 The bad marketing
It is a common marketing practice to put the word free in front of a brand’s product. That’s exactly what Dunkin Donuts did in 2010 when they announced that they would celebrate their 60th anniversary with the Free Iced Coffee Day. Unfortunately, there was some fine print that said the promotion was available in selected locations in a total of five states. Enraged customers who realized there was going to be no free coffee left some pretty nasty messages on the company’s Facebook page.
Besides delicious burritos and tacos, Chipotle Mexican Grill also made headlines for its questionable food quality, sanitary conditions, and flawed management of the supplied food. The good news is that the company is taking important steps to re-establish trust and take its food quality to an upper level.
Doing things right
Most of the fast-food chains mentioned above made enormous efforts not only to boost their declining sales but also to please their consumers with tasty alternatives of the food items that turned out to be major flops.
For instance, several McDonald’s reviewers wanted the old style Big Mac burgers back in town, like this consumer that says:
“After many attempts in vain to get the old-style ‘big mac’ I finally managed to treat myself. All excited and remembering when many years ago me and my sister used to manage to eat 2 each it was our occasional challenging treat. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed the two burgers were so thin, dry, and tasteless, definitely not how they used to be. Come on mac D at least make them How they used to be!!!”
Some consumers also demanded the return of the good-old Mighty Wings. That led McDonald’s to consider giving consumers something they have been waiting for quite a while instead; for example, a much-anticipated all-day breakfast menu in 2015, which won back old customers and was offered at all locations across the country. The company is still seeing a boost in sales worldwide.
Then comes Taco Bell, which decided to please fast food fans with something new and exciting. It introduced a hybrid between chalupa and quesadilla (namely Quesalupa) which featured cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, and Taco Bell’s seasoned beef packed in a cheese shell. The new menu item reached crazy heights of popularity and pushed Taco Bell sales up by 5% by 2016.
Despite the fact that it was axed sometime later (it was too difficult for Taco Bell employees to make the cheese shells by hand), online petitions that demanded its return made the culinary concoction even more popular.
To address its customer service issue, Pizza Hut now applies stricter, more client-focused standards to its customer service reps. Also, Pizza Hut made sure it would offer pizza lovers the tastiest stuffed pizza crust.
In the past couple of years, the company introduced several types of stuffed crusts, like the bacon-stuffed crust and the hot dog stuffed crust. Today, its most favored crust features provolone cheese, cheddar, mozzarella, and smoked Applewood bacon. Plus, the company upgraded its in-store technology.
Dunkin Donuts, on the other hand, is another food chain that managed to put itself back in the game by harnessing the power of a mobile phone. Their savvy SMS campaign garnered subscribers, retained most of its presence in the United States, and kept the brand fresh in the minds of consumers. By targeting the right people and using the right tone, they got people to trust them again and increased their in-store traffic by 21%.
Wendy’s decided to take a different turn to regain customers’ attention and trust. It all started when a teenage Twitter user (namely Carter) sent a tweet to Wendy’s account. He asked about how many retweets he should make in order to get a Wendy’s bag of chicken nuggets for an entire year. Wendy’s set a goal of 18 million tweets!
Carter launched his own Twitter campaign and his story went viral across the news media and Twitter alike. Carter also gained the support of celebrities along the way. At the moment of this writing, Wendy’s and Carter have broken the World’s Most Retweets record (more than 3.5 million) and Wendy’s has granted his wish already. Plus, the company donated $100,000 to a charity and, of course, became millions of people’s favorite restaurant!
As for Burger King, the company compensated frustrated consumers with delicious burgers and a focus on providing healthier alternatives to greasy and calorie-filled foods. In fact, the Whopper became their signature food item, along with other foods that were warmly embraced by consumers for their health-promoting ingredients and nutritional value.
Fast food restaurant chains will always try to bring new things in hopes of winning more customers or bringing some old ones back. In doing so, they may come up with fast food items that are better off left at the back of their creators’ minds while others may impress our palate. Undeniably, with such fierce competition out there, there is no room for middle ground.
The food proposed should simply exceed our expectations in uniqueness, taste, food quality, and price.
Joanna is interested in journalism from a young age. Her work at PissedConsumer.com gives her a choice to analyze consumer experiences. In her articles, she provides consumers with useful information and tips to avoid unpleasant issues and scams.