Fast-Food Flops and Failures from Major Franchise Brands

Fast Food Failures, Flops Franchise

McLean Deluxe and BK’s Bacon Sundae are a Few of the Many Fast-Food Fails

Fast-food brands continually roll out new items to supplement their menu mainstays. But unlike Starbucks’ hit with the Pumpkin Spice Latte and Popeyes’ breakout chicken sandwich, there are actually more floppers than Whoppers. Here’s a sample of famous failures from across the fast-food industry.

A&W Error

During the ’80s, A&W wanted to one-up the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with a one-third-pound patty, according to a Cheapism.com blog. After the burgers stumbled in sales, a market research firm learned why: Math-challenged Americans thought 1/4 pound was more than 1/3. In 2021, A&W put a twist on its tactics, with a rebranding to the “3/9 Pound Burger” as a way to boost the numbers, the blogger says.

Burger King Blunders

In 1987, Burger Bundles, a slider iteration, were a hit with consumers but not so much with Burger King cooks. As reported by CNBC, the mini-burgers often fell through the broiler grates so the franchisor deep-sixed the Burger Bundles a few months after they hit the market.

Next up: BK’s meatloaf sandwich, an onion-covered patty, in 1992. “McDonald’s doesn’t have it. Wendy’s doesn’t have it,” Major League Baseball celebrity Bob Uecker intoned in TV commercials for the Flame Broiled Meatloaf Sandwich, according to metv.com. Torched by widespread bad reviews, the sandwich quickly disappeared.

Then came the Enormous Omelette Sandwich, with its humongous 730 calories and 47 fat grams. Two eggs, a sausage patty, two slices of cheese and three strips of bacon comprised this calorie catastrophe. The nutritional hazards propelled its disappearance not long after BK birthed it in 2005.

The public also never warmed to BK’s Bacon Sundae. The 2012 concoction combined vanilla soft-serve ice cream, hot fudge, caramel and bacon. About a year later, Burger King pitched its Satisfries (dubbed “saddest” fries by disappointed diners) as a more healthful French fry that absorbed less fat during cooking. Various reports say BK dropped the ball on this one by both charging more for Satisfries and by inadequately marketing them as a superior nutritional choice, according to Businessinsider.com.

Chipotle’s Queso No-Go

In 2017 Chipotle’s newly introduced queso cheese dip was shredded on social media. One reviewer complained it was soupy, sharp and sour. The chain has since smoothed over the disappointment with a queso blanco that possesses the vital thick-bodied texture and gentle spiciness.

Headwinds for DQ’s Breeze

A health-focused Blizzard dessert may sound like the impossible dream, but Dairy Queen gave it a shot starting in 1990, Mashed.com says. The Blizzard – which mixes soft-serve ice cream with optional fudge, toffee, chunks of cheesecake and brownies, among other decadent add-ins – simply wasn’t the same with a frozen-yogurt base.

Customers gave the Breeze a cold shoulder. Dairy Queen Breeze pulled the plug after sputtering for nearly a decade – with loads of yogurt spoiling after slack sales, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Jack in the Box Booboo

Frings, a side dish combining French fries and onion rings, were envisioned as an option for customers who liked both but had trouble committing to one over the other. The dual-ingredient dish was expected to be the 1970s’ hottest new treat, according to List25.com, but turned out to be Jack’s biggest failure by that date.

KFC Calamity

KFC’s Double Down sandwich, which rose and fell like a comet in 2010, maximized cholesterol: bacon, cheese and sauce positioned between (WAIT FOR IT) two slabs of fried chicken instead of a bun. Despite the obvious health hazard of the sandwich, it had a few rabid fans and staged a brief encore in 2014.

McDonald’s Many McDuds

Mcdonald’s is always adding new items to its menu. The early-1960s Hula Burger was one of the Golden Arches’ earliest fast-food flops. Franchise owner Ray Kroc thought the pineapple-patty burger with cheese would appeal to Catholics during Lent. It floundered, but Kroc was on to something. A course correction to the Filet-O-Fish in 1965 was a winner appealing to Catholics as well as Jewish and Muslim customers observing their religious dietary laws, CNBC noted. A derivative product, McDonald’s Fish McBites, inspired by the Filet-o-Fish, flunked its 2013 audition, however, notes Businessinsider.com.

The 1970s saw the dawn of McDonald’s onion nuggets, which were more or less a chunk version of onion rings served with a sauce for dipping. They sound tasty enough but simply never caught on, according to Reader’s Digest.

Kroc, who died in 1984, was firmly against hot dog items at McDonald’s. But the chain gave them a whirl in the 1990s, only to learn that Kroc’s instincts were correct: Consumers gave the McHotDog a cool reception.

With hopes of siphoning customers from Domino’s and Pizza Hut in the 1980s and ’90s, McDonald’s put lasagna and fettucine Alfredo on its menu. Turns out customers wanted American fare at McDonald’s, not Italian.

Fast Food Failures, flops franchise

The 91% fat-free McLean Deluxe burger swooned in 1991, according to Reader’s Digest. This was the era when Americans started counting their fat grams and fretted over their cholesterol numbers, so there was a reasonable expectation the McLean might catch on. McDonald’s main miscue was that the seaweed and water replacing the fat weren’t particularly tasty. And if that wasn’t enough, the McLean cost more than a Big Mac.

Then there’s the McLobster sandwich served up in Nova Scotia in 1993. The lettuce often outweighed the lobster, according to Reader’s Digest, and the sandwich cost a hefty $6 – which was a lot of bread three decades ago. Even though the McLobster didn’t make McDonald’s menus worldwide, it stuck around in Canada and New England, popping up in summertime regionally.

Pizza Hut Problems

Pizza franchises always search for that big beyond-basic-pepperoni pie but often end up in fast-food failure. Pizza Hut’s deep-dish Priazzo had its fans in the 1980s although it lasted just over a year on menus, Mashed.com says. The problem with this delectable mash-up of meats, cheeses, sauce and token veggies was that it took up to 40 minutes’ cooking time.

Then in 2015 the Hut literally went over the top with its Hot Dog Bites pizza, an All-American-sounding flavor that actually originated in Asia. Amped-up marketing couldn’t save its disappointing taste, with Business Insider critiquing it as “a definite lowlight of the decade’s fast food.”

Starbucks’ Truffle Kerfuffle

In January 2005 Starbucks debuted Chantico, a liquid confection blending steamed cocoa butter and whole milk (390 calories and 20 grams of fat per 6-ounce serving), according to Businessinsider.com. A Starbucks spokeswoman described it as “drinking a melted truffle.” Truffle-drinking never caught on, and when the year ended, so did Chantico.

Subway Snafu

Subway’s Flatizza fizzled in 2014. The mini-flatbread pizza was available in pepperoni, veggie, spicy Italian, and plain cheese varieties, according to Mashed. Food critics panned the Flatizza, and the veggie version in particular was described as a mess.

Taco Bell Tribulations

Like McDonald’s, Taco Bell tried to cash in on Lenten meat restrictions. Voila: the mid-1980s’ Seafood Salad, a taco bowl with shrimp, whitefish and crab supplanting the beef on a cheese-topped bed of cheese, tomatoes and lettuce. The Bell’s blunder was that “nobody wants fish when they go to Taco Bell,” Mashed.com stated.

Another noteworthy bust was the Bell’s waffle taco, which lasted a year after its 2014 premiere. The breakfast paired syrup and eggs inside a waffle. Is it any wonder that consumers didn’t take to this trio?

Wendy’s Washout

In 2006 Wendy’s introduced a fast-food failure with the Frescata deli sandwiches. The idea was to attract consumers with a fondness for freshness or a yen for healthier eating, Mashed.com reported. Diners really took to the sandwiches but were a curse to Wendy’s crews because of their tedious preparation requirements. They lasted from April 2006 through December 2007.

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Mary Vinnedge is an award-winning journalist who has served as editor in chief, managing editor and senior editor at national and regional publications, including SUCCESS and Design NJ magazines. She also held reporting and editing roles at The Dallas Morning News and Charlotte Observer newspapers.

Before Mary began covering franchise news and trends as a staff writer for FranchiseWire and Franchise Consultant Magazine, she developed articles on topics ranging from lifestyle, education, health and science to home projects, horticulture, gardening, interior design and architecture. These articles included her reporting on academic news at her alma mater, Texas A&M University, when Mary worked in the marketing department of the Texas A&M Foundation. She continues to be a news junkie and subscribes to several publications.

Today Mary and her husband are empty nesters living on Galveston Island near Houston. The couple’s blended family – scattered around the United States – includes five children, four grandchildren and two very spoiled, very barky miniature schnauzer rescues.
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