bannerFranchise News

Fast Food Flops and Failures from Major Franchise Brands

Fast food franchises have always been a favorite choice for U.S. consumers. But not every menu item created by these franchises has found success. Let’s look back on some of the most well-known flops and failures from major franchise brands.

By Jeff DwyerStaff Writer
Updated 8:08AM 05/10/23

Fast food restaurant chains are a staple of American culture. Every day, millions of Americans rely on these fast-casual concepts for easy meals on the go. However, not every menu item created by major franchise brands, such as McDonald’s or Burger King, finds success. Many of these brands have experienced a slew of their own flops and failures.

But what are some of these fast food failures from major franchise brands and what led to their downfall?

McDonald’s Arch Deluxe Hamburger

Arguably one of the most infamous fast food failures of all time was McDonald’s Arch Deluxe hamburger. The item was launched in 1996 and marketed as a more sophisticated burger for adults. The Arch Deluxe was a quarter pound of beef on a split-top potato flour sesame seed bun, topped with a circular piece of peppered bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions and ketchup. The burger ranged from $2.09 to $2.49, and customers deemed it “too expensive.” As a result, the Arch Deluxe failed to resonate with consumers, leading to its eventual discontinuation in 2000.

It's estimated that McDonald’s spent over $300 million on the research, production and marketing for the Arch Deluxe, making it one of the most well-known expensive fast food flops.

R.J. Hottovy is the Head of Analytical Research at Hottovy specializes in covering the restaurant, retail and e-commerce sectors. He believes another factor that contributed to the failure of the Arch Deluxe was its similarity to McDonald’s already-popular Big Mac. Due to the items’ similarities, Hottovy suggests it was more difficult for consumers to differentiate the two menu choices.

“You have to build awareness for a new product to get people interested in it,” said Hottovy. “I think first and foremost, building that awareness is the most important thing when it comes to selling a new product.”

McDonald’s Pizza

Although McDonald’s is one of the most recognized fast food brands in America, that doesn’t mean the brand has been immune to missteps. Prior to the Arch Deluxe, McDonald’s attempted to introduce pizza to its menu. McDonald’s pizza was a short-lived menu item that the chain introduced in the late 1980s. It was made with a thin crispy crust, and a blend of cheese and toppings. However, the pizza did not perform well with customers and was eventually discontinued.

There were a number of reasons why the pizza failed to catch on. One was that it took longer to cook than other fast food items, which slowed service times. Another reason, according to Hottovy, was that McDonald’s was known for burgers and fries, not pizza, so customers may have been hesitant to try it.

“That one just did not work,” said Hottovy. “There may have been some demand for it, but the operational complexity of trying to do a pizza at a chain that’s known for its burgers and chicken sandwiches is difficult to do. It just went too far outside of the operational competency of McDonald’s.”

Burger King’s Satisfries

For those who don’t remember McDonald’s pizza or Arch Deluxe, maybe Burger King and its Satisfries will be more up to speed. Burger King launched its Satisfries in 2013. They were marketed as a healthier French fry option with fewer calories than regular fries. The Satisfries were made with a special batter that absorbed less oil, causing them to have 20%–30% fewer calories than regular fries. 

However, one major complaint of the Satisfries was that they were too expensive to produce, and in turn, were too expensive for the customer. A small order of the Satisfries typically cost about $1.89 compared to the $1.59 for an order of regular fries. Additionally, customers said they didn’t taste as good. A combination of these factors led to poor sales for the King, and the chain took them off the menu in 2014, just one year after they debuted.

Pizza Hut’s Crazy Cheesy Crust Pizza

Even major brands such as Pizza Hut have experienced flops. For example, Pizza Hut’s Crazy Cheesy Crust Pizza was introduced in 2012. The pizza was essentially a regular Pizza Hut pizza with a twist; the crust was stuffed with cheese and topped with toasted Parmesan. At the time, the concept of a pizza with stuffed crust was anything but new, but Pizza Hut took it to the next level by making it even cheesier. However, despite the innovation, the pizza failed to perform well with customers. Many found it to be too heavy and greasy, and the high amount of cheese made it difficult to eat more than a few slices. As a result, the Crazy Cheesy Crust Pizza was discontinued in 2012, shortly after being introduced.

Wendy’s Frescata Sandwiches

In more recent years, fast food restaurants have been facing the challenge of adapting to the trend of healthier eating. One such example is Wendy’s attempt to appeal to health-conscious customers with its Frescata Sandwiches, which were introduced in 2006. These sandwiches were made with fresh vegetables, sliced meats and cheese, and were marketed as a healthier alternative to other fast food options. However, despite the initial hype, the Frescata line failed to attract customers due to its high cost. It was taken off the menu within a year.

Despite the failure of Wendy’s Frescata Sandwiches, Johna Burdeos, a registered dietitian and health and nutrition writer, says the demand for healthier options has been on the rise, and fast food chains are actively working to meet that skyrocketing demand.

“More and more people are into healthier eating,” said Burdeos. “People want options. The biggest challenge for restaurants, in my opinion, particularly for fast food, is to provide these options in a customizable way, quickly, to the customer.”

For example, Burdeos says Chick-Fil-A has been able to strike a balance between offering typical fast food meals and healthy options such as salads. She believes the ability to cater to customers’ demands for healthier options while still providing convenient and quick service is essential for fast food restaurants to stay relevant in today’s market.

Food Lessons Learned

Overall, fast food flops and failures are a reminder that even major franchise brands can make mistakes. As previously mentioned, there are a number of factors that can contribute to a menu item’s success or failure. According to Hottovy, releasing new products poses an operational challenge. Pricing can be an issue. And, sometimes, there are items that just “aren’t all that innovative.”

But, as Hottovy believes, “One failure is not going to be enough to change the perception of a brand.” As long as major franchise brands work to understand their customers’ needs and desires, they can avoid making costly mistakes and continue to thrive in an increasingly competitive market.