You’re Important (To Fast Food Restaurants)! A Review Of All The Ways They’ve Jockeyed For Business in 2015

There are a few different schools of thought with regard to fast food these days:

  1. Pivot toward “healthy” and “sustainable” — competing with Chipotle and the dozens of other fast-casual eco/health friendly entries popping up.
  2. Throw that to the wind and go bigger, less healthy, and really own the “bad food” label — as in, Hardee’s/Carl’s Junior.
  3. Say “F*ck it” and try literally everything — heretofore known as “The McDonald’s Gambit.” (Seriously, those guys will do anything for your business right now.)

As classic fast food restaurants try to chart a course forward during uncertain times, they’re more prone than ever to experiment with some weirdness. Menus are evolving quickly and marketing stunts (which go viral thanks to outlets like this one) have become the norm. A recent study by the NPD group found that Americans are eschewing soda in favor of water and health beverages — which is a huge problem for restaurants, who depend on high-profit beverage sales to balance out lower-profit food options. This week, McDonald’s franchisees made a stir by complaining about all the tinkering. A few wondered aloud about the future of the company. Just yesterday, McDonald’s released plans for a new value menu (if food won’t get them, price might), which will, for whatever reason, feature mozzarella sticks.

It’s not just McDonald’s trying to woo customers, though. Here is a look at other stunts — some ill-advised and some brilliant — that fast food restaurants have pulled this year in pursuit of the almighty consumer dollar.

January: KFC’s Double Down Dog

Welcome to 2015, here’s a hot dog, wrapped in a piece of fried chicken! In South Korea, the abomination kicked off the month of January. And though it never made its way to the U.S. of A., it also seems to have kicked off our own year of very strange fast food concoctions.

May: Carl’s Jr.’s/ Hardee’s Most American Thickburger

After a fairly calm spring with regards to fast food companies, Carl’s Junior/Hardee’s decided to get things going by harnessing the patriotic fervor that hits this glorious country somewhere around Memorial Day. The company kicked off the release of their artery-clogging hot dog/burger/chip masterpiece with – what else? – an overblown, God-Bless-America-style commercial.

Jesus, Carl, take it easy. Go home, sleep it off.

June: Pizza Hut’s Hot Dog-Pizza Mashup

Pizza Hut decided to appeal to the niche market of “consumers who can’t make a decision between ordering pizza and making hot dogs” and release a Frankensteinian mashup of the two. (A few weeks later, Pizza Hut’s marketing execs screwed their heads back on and released the much more logical Twisted Crust pizza.)

July: Taco Bell’s Delivery Service

Riding a Doritos Locos Tacos-shaped wave of goodwill with consumers, Taco Bell started offering delivery service in select markets (LA, San Francisco, and Dallas). After initial success, they’re looking to expand the delivery to other cities.

August: Burger King’s McWhopper Peace Day Offering

Burger King tried to do the right thing and pair up with McDonald’s in anticipation of September’s Peace Day, but the Golden Arches were not on board: The idea was rejected before it could get any further than the clever name, and in the end, four other charitable fast food joints teamed up with BK to create the very limited-edition Peace Burger mishmash. It sold at an Atlanta pop-up restaurant on 9/21.

September: Burger King’s Black Whopper

Halloween came early for Burger King, who released their oh-so-spooky Halloween Black Whopper at the end of September. Rumored to be colored with blue and red dyes and flavored with A1 sauce, it did manage to receive its hour in the social media spotlight. However, the most unexpectedly frightening bit about the burger came hours after consumption, in the privacy of its eager eaters’ homes. (We’re talking about green poop, FYI.)

September: Taco Bell’s Chicken-Shell Taco

First, there was the Double Down, which KFC blessed the world with in 2010. Then there was January’s Double Down Dog. In September, Taco Bell decided to raise the stakes of the game and released (in select markets, blah, blah) the Naked Crispy Chicken Taco. The thing is sort of like the yeti of the fast food world, only existing in Twitter legend (and San Jose, where much of this stuff seems to get tested), which makes us think it’s still in development. We’re crossing our pudgy fingers that this one will launch nationwide soon.

September: McDonald’s’ All Day Breakfast Disaster

CA Passes State Law To Force Restaurants Chains To Display Calorie Info
Getty Image

This was the move that made every fast-food lover rejoice. For about five seconds. Because very quickly, our cries of “McGriddles for dinner! Hash browns always!” were replaced by the news of All Day Breakfast’s big caveat — a limited, hash brown-less menu. The backlash began even before franchise owners declared the change would ruin business.

October: McDonald’s’ Modern China Burger

This one, which hit the news cycle earlier this week, is very limited-edition: It can only be purchased in China, and only until November 2. Which, it seems, is a very good thing. The advertised silver bun is, IRL, really sad and concrete-looking.

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What will the rest of the year hold? Will fast food workers offer to come to our homes and make the meals for us in our own kitchens if we’ll just let them into our lives? Will McDonald’s offer French fry straws?

Here are a few ideas from the Uproxx team:

I submit the McTacoPizza, a big mac, with a mini pizza as the middle bun, and two Doritos locos tacos as the top and bottom buns.

Also, the Taco Bell AM Double Down Crunch Wrap. It’s a KFC double down with an egg and a hashbrown wrapped in a crunch wrap.

Vince Mancini

Hooking up gravy tanks to the soda dispensers.”NEED GRAVY? GET A LARGE!”

Also, mark my words, they’re gonna fry chickpeas, they’re going to serve tofu, the whole nine yards, and all of it will suck. The McTofu: Your Heart Is Lovin’ It!

Dan Seitz

P.S. If you’re looking for a good answer to the question of who comes up with this stuff? And why?, Look no further than the brilliant culinary minds of… MARKETING EXECUTIVES! This American Life recently did an in-depth story following Hardee’s teams in the process of inventing new menu items.