What Were They Thinking?
The fast food restaurant is a fixture of urban, suburban and rural America, appealing to people from every age group, income bracket and ethnic background. It’s as close as you can get in the United States to something everyone can agree on.
Despite their dominant position in the US marketplace, the Taco Bells, Burger Kings and Pizza Huts of the nation still have to attract customers; kitchen staff, marketing departments and research teams are constantly looking for new ways to court them. However, not all of the ideas can be on a par with the Big Mac, and sometimes, they fall squarely into the “what were they thinking?” category, as anyone who’s tried to eat a McLobster sandwich can attest.
Click ahead and see the 15 products, practices and promotions that have been noteworthy fast food failures.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 18 Oct 2010
In 1984, McDonald’s introduced the McDLT. It was nothing more than a hamburger with lettuce and tomato, but it was packaged in a double-sided Styrofoam container that kept “the hot side hot and the cool side cool” by storing the beef patty half in one compartment and the lettuce and tomato half in the other. The customer would then put the two sides together and experience climate-controlled nirvana on a bun.
The burger was discontinued in 1990, because of the container that was its signature feature. McDonald’s was already facing public relations problems because of the environmental unfriendliness of its standard, single clamshell packaging. Now here they were, doubling the problem. The product was withdrawn, but thanks to the Internet, we can still cherish the memory of this commercial featuring a pre-“Seinfeld” Jason Alexander extolling the McDLT’s virtues through song and dance.
Like sports teams, fast food establishments have always had mascots. Domino’s Pizza created its own with an animated character known as the Noid. In television spots, this red-suited fiend would try to sabotage the pizza chain’s products, and though his dastardly plots were always foiled, the viewing audience was sternly advised to “Avoid the Noid” nonetheless.
One person who was not amused by the character was a Georgia man named Kenneth Lamar Noid. In 1989, mistakenly believing that the commercials were directed at him personally, he stormed into an Atlanta area Domino’s with a .357 Magnum and took two employees hostage. When the police arrived at the scene, Noid demanded a getaway car, $100,000 and a copy of the 1985 novel The Widow’s Son, which depicted life in an 18th century French prison. Noid finally turned himself over to authorities after a five-hour siege, and the character was eventually retired.
The food at the In-N-Out Burger chain is cooked to order, and if you know how to ask, you can have your burger prepared in ways not formally advertised. Officially, the chain offers the 3x3, or three beef patties and three slices of cheese, and the highest meat to cheese ratio found on the menu is on the 4x4, or four beef patties and four slices of cheese. However, the chain once made the burgers even bigger upon request, making the 6x6 and the 8x8 unauthorized but available options.
Sadly, a bunch of twenty-somethings had to go ruin it for the rest of us. On Halloween 2004, Will Young and seven of his friends ordered --- and got --- a 100x100. For those keeping score, that’s 100 beef patties and 100 slices of cheese on a single bun. Word spread and brought unwanted attention to the chain, who instituted a damage control policy wherein no burger larger than a 4x4 could be made under any circumstances. Although his was not a victimless crime, Young is unrepentant. “I think I did society a favor by having it banned,” he claimed.
Enormous Omelet Sandwich
Anyone who thought that fast food breakfasts were too health-conscious was happy on March 28, 2005, when Burger King launched the Enormous Omelet Sandwich. The product consisted of eggs, cheese, bacon and sausage on a sesame seed roll, and if its 330 milligrams of cholesterol and 1940 milligrams of sodium didn’t shut down your arteries, there was always the Meat’normous Omelet Sandwich, which added ham.
At first, the sandwich boosted Burger King’s sales of breakfast by 20%. However, the novelty wore off, and it lost favor with the overwhelming majority of consumers who hoped to live past the age of 50. It was discontinued in the United States, but it’s still available in some international markets.
Free Iced Coffee Day
As most adults know, any establishment that puts the words “free” and “coffee” in the same sentence will do a brisk business. Representatives for Dunkin Donuts learned this the hard way in May 2010 when they announced “free iced coffee day” in celebration of their 60th anniversary.
Unfortunately, there was the small matter of the fine print, which stated that the free joe would only be offered at “participating locations” in five states. Customers in other states never got that far in the ads, and the chain was swamped with patrons who went from giddy to enraged when they realized there was no free coffee to be had. In the pre-internet age this might have led to riots and looting, but fortunately the dissatisfied customers did the 21st century equivalent and just left nasty messages on the Dunkin Donuts Facebook page.
In 1996, McDonald’s created the Arch Deluxe, a hamburger intended to appeal to grown-up tastes. It was basically a Quarter Pounder with cheese on a different kind of bun, with peppered bacon and a top-secret mustard and mayonnaise sauce. It was intended to be the leadoff product in a long line of adult-themed menu items, and the company spent $100 million on the ad campaign.
It stiffed. The price was markedly higher than the other items on the McDonald’s menu, and the very expensive ad campaign featured unhappy children claiming that they didn’t like the burger, a bizarre way to promote a product if there ever was one. It was an enormous disappointment for a product that company officials had originally expected to be good for $1 billion in sales in its first year alone.
The Pizza Hut chain has never shied away from experimenting with its menu, and the list of new products that have come and gone is long. One such product was the Priazzo, a pie with two crusts that was meant to resemble a Chicago deep-dish pizza. Introduced in 1985, it was packed to the rafters with pork products galore and then topped with another layer of crust, sauce and cheese.
$15 million was spent on the ad campaign, and company vice president David Ropes was so confident of the pie’s popularity that he boldly predicted that it would generate $250 million in sales in its first year alone. However, no amount of advertising could compensate for the fact that the Priazzo simply took too much time to make for a fast food establishment. The Priazzo failed to meet expectations, and it was withdrawn after just a few years.
A slider is a very small hamburger, meant for frenzied consumption in multiple quantities. You don’t order one, or even three — you order ten and devour all of them in less than three minutes, preferably while you’re still in your car at the franchise’s parking lot. In the summer of 1987, Burger King introduced their own sliders, Burger Bundles, and they did a booming business, particularly among teenagers and late night customers.
Despite the Burger Bundles’ popularity, preparing them was more difficult than anyone realized. Line cooks experienced “operational difficulties” when working with the tiny patties, and the undersized burgers frequently fell through the grating of the kitchen’s broilers. Ultimately, the technical demands required to make them proved too much, and they were discontinued just months after they were introduced.
For those running for the border, Taco Bell briefly made a classic product available, the chili-cheese burrito, then upped the ante by adding Frito’s chips to the mix. This should appeal to anyone who’s ever eaten a Frito pie, but to customers living outside of the southwestern United States, it was a strange and alien concept.
The Frito Burrito was discontinued, but there remains a small but avid group of fans that still swear by it to this day. Those fans will have to make do with Sonic’s Fritos Chili Cheese Wrap, which had its debut in 2009.
In 2006, the Wendy’s chain decided to compete with Subway restaurants and offer their own line of freshly prepared deli sandwiches. Sold under the Frescata name, the new menu option offered multiple takes on the ham and cheese sandwich. They even got all fancy by offering pesto.
Initially, the Frescata was welcomed as a lower-calorie, less fatty menu option, and Jay Cridlin of the St. Petersburg Times marveled at the fact that “the thing tastes fresh.” However, it never caught on, in part because the made-to-order sandwiches took longer to prepare than the hamburgers that rolled off the assembly line all day. The line was discontinued in 2007.
The McDonald’s Hula Burger was introduced in 1962 when founder Ray Kroc realized that he could market a meatless sandwich to Catholic patrons who were observing Lent. His instinct was right on the money, but the sandwich that he created was not. The Hula Burger used a pineapple slice instead of a beef patty, and it was made even more unappetizing with a piece of cheese.
The Hula Burger failed miserably. It was simply too exotic, and Catholics observing Lent preferred a different alternative to the burger on the McDonald’s menu, the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. This product also caught on with Jewish and Muslim customers observing their own religious dietary laws, and it went on to become a mainstay of the McDonald’s menu.
The Dairy Queen franchise pursued a piece of the Starbuck’s craze in 2004 with its own blended coffee drink. The product was a tantalizing mixture of coffee and ice cream that rivaled Starbuck’s Mocha Frappucino for deliciousness, and it was dubbed the “MooLatte.” So far, so good.
Somehow, the beverage made it all the way from the research and development lab to the franchise’s menu without anyone noticing that the name bore more than a passing resemblance to the term “mulatto,” an antiquated and extremely politically incorrect name for a biracial person.
The problem with the name caused Slate magazine to say “MooLatte sounds so much like ‘mulatto’ as to call into question the mental competence of Dairy Queen's corporate leadership.” The drink is still on the Dairy Queen menu today, but the uproar is enough to qualify it as a fast food failure.
For those who felt it was beneath them to carry a tray of food from the cash register to the table, Burger King introduced table service in 1991. During the hours of 5pm to 8pm, customers could order, sit down, snack on complementary popcorn and have their meal brought to them.
Initially, this met with a favorable response from some customers, in particular single parents with small children who appreciated having the use of both hands to shepherd their unruly charges to the dinner table. However, most customers were indifferent to the service, and it was discontinued after it became clear that most people were perfectly fine with carrying a plastic tray ten feet.
Since 1993, McDonald’s offered its foods in small, medium and large sizes, as well as the largest of all, Supersize, which offered customers 7 ounces of French Fries and 42 ounces of soda with their Big Mac. Customers loved it, but it was phased out in 2004. The company claimed that this was part of a larger effort to make their menu healthier, however many people speculate that the decision was influenced by a lawsuit claiming that McDonald’s food had made two teenage girls obese.
Others credit the documentary “Super Size Me,” which depicted the toll on director Morgan Spurlock when he ate only McDonald’s food for 30 days, three meals a day, and Supersizing it whenever asked. The physical side effects included depression, liver damage and even sexual dysfucntion, and it created such bad publicity for McDonald’s that many believe it prompted them to discontinue Supersizing as a result.
Taco Bell’s entire business model is predicated on the hope that consumers will “think outside the bun.” However, in the 1980s they offered their own bun-centric food item, the Bell Beefer. The sandwich simply took everything that’s in a taco, such as ground beef, cheese and lettuce, and put it on a bun. This is sometimes known as a Sloppy Joe, and it also bears a close resemblance to a Manwich.
Despite its similarity to high school cafeteria food, the Bell Beefer had diehard fans during its brief lifetime. Nevertheless , Taco Bell discontinued it as the 1980s drew to a close, a decision that angered the sandwich’s loyal cult following. 20 years later, they still haven’t gotten over it, and websites have appeared showing people how to make this unjustly withdrawn sandwich at home.