The speed and price of fast food were, for a short while, enough to satisfy the population. Despite selling 75 hamburgers every second, the simpler days of McDonalds’ original menu are over: cheeseburger, hamburger, fries with that? Customers want variety: according to Forbes, “only 8% of consumers say fast-food chains ought to decrease the number of items they sell.”

McDonald’s original menu in 1940

Quick service restaurants now deploy breakfast menus, desserts, and allow customizations. What’s more, international chains offer unique items based on their geography: so menu innovation tends not to follow blanket rules. That which may be considered unappetizing to the American palate could generate huge success in different countries.

Innovating new foods isn’t without its risks. A menu flop can cost fast food chains the price of ingredients, marketing, testing, and a lot more besides – sometimes even their reputation. McDonald’s parted with $150 million to advertise their failed ‘Arch Deluxe’ in 1996 (the most expensive campaign in fast-food history).

So hold onto your sesame seeds, this article looks at a some of the most successful (and some of the worst) menu revamps in history. We’ll also share some top tips on how to avert a disastrous menu flop and maximize menu success through innovative research methods.

Where’d They Go Wrong? QSR Menu Revamps That Left a Lot to Be Desired

Wendy’s Breakfast
Back in 1984, Wendy’s tried breakfast. It didn’t work out: fresh omelets slowed down their service and generated operational issues. Nonetheless, they tried again in 2013 for a whole year. They’ve since decided that the morning market is too crowded and costly. They’ve focused their energy on other areas.

Thorough research and testing will reveal whether business strategies and new ideas are likely to be viable at all, let alone well-received. Wendy’s simply underestimated the habits of breakfast eaters.

Other brands might have combatted this terminal diagnosis by testing iteratively to develop a comprehensive strategy for fuelling early-morning behavior change (that, or stronger coffee).

McDLT
In the 1980s, McDonalds was ambitious in launching a new burger in styrofoam packaging, storing its lettuce and tomatoes separately (to keep them cool).

Naturally, this waste of packaging couldn’t last and goes to show that QSR research should extend beyond the food itself. What do customers make of your packaging or your brand’s ethical approach to recycling?

Onion nuggets and chicken fajitas never caught on either, sadly.

Friendly’s Grilled Cheese Burger
What’s that? A burger squeezed between two grilled cheese sandwiches? There’s no way that can’t be healthy.

Never mind fries with that, this burger came with a jaw-dropping 1,500 calories, 97 grams of fat, and a 2,090 milligrams of sodium. For those among us who opt for the healthier options, this was off the menu. It got discontinued in 2010.

Where’d they go right? QSR menu revamps that actually worked

Burger King’s New Menu
In urgent need of a success story after an oversized omelet and whatever ‘satisfries’ were, Burger King paid close attention to the demands of consumers and gruelingly optimized its entire menu in 2014. Shortly thereafter, they reported strong financial quarters. What did they change?

They evaluated all of their ingredients; added ten new items (from smoothies and frappes to chicken strips and snack wraps); and they tested many others, including panini, pressed snack wraps and seven months’ worth of new smoothies.

These choices worked in their favor. But, if they’d opted for a testing method that got the job done sooner, their new menu could have been finalized for a much lower cost, with data to help shape similar strategic decisions in future. Being able to conduct historical cross-analysis ensures a better view of what’s most likely to win audiences hearts (and stomachs) in future.

Taco Bell’s Nacho Fries
These fried became Taco Bell’s most successful product launch ever. Since January 2018, customers have ordered more than 53 million of these, appealing to those fond of both inventive snacks and value (they form part of Taco Bell’s $1 range).

20 more items at just $1 are launching in test markets throughout the year, and the mightily successful Nacho Fries were extended beyond their original promo cut off date – due to their increasing popularity.

McDonalds Shamrock Shake
Introduced in Chicago in 1970, these minty green novelty shakes have become a mainstay of St Patrick’s Day in the U.S. and Canada. Last year, McDonald’s experimented with an already winning formula by introducing the Shamrock Chocolate Shake, the Shamrock Chocolate Chip Frappé, the Shamrock Mocha, and the Shamrock Hot Chocolate.

These variants may fall by the wayside as the years go by, but if history’s anything to go by, the Shamrock Shake will stay strong – despite its heady 460 calorie count.

What to Learn: Tricks of the Trade

For limited time offers:
Seasonal menu items draw huge crowds, so if your plan is to invent the next “pumpkin spice”, remember you have a shorter spell for development.

These items need to be sold within an allotted time frame, ahead of the next menu (whatever that may be). If not, you’ll find yourself stuck with ingredients that’ll need to be reused in future.

There’s time, now, to take several new concepts and run them through a quick test, determining which wins favor with the crowds. We recommend running three through our FavorIt test, which offers a clear view of which product is most likely to drive ROI.

For new menus:
Complete menu updates are notoriously tricky to pull off since they require much forethought and planning.

To develop a brand new menu, it’s best to conceptualize items based on themes; that’s what IHOP is doing for their dinner menu revamp. Static tests are a safe bet here, determining which areas of a concept or menu your consumers’ eyes are being drawn to most often and for how long.

How Zappi helps

We encourage our QSR clients to maintain quite a broad sample audience (a past three month QSR consumer usually does the trick). Later, this data can be filtered down into specifics, such as which restaurants have been visited specifically, permitting a more granular view of how competitors’ customers might present similar data.

Keeping track of old and new menus – as well as which new brand strategies are doomed to failure – is a simple task if you’re using a smart platform that aggregates everything you’ve ever tested in one place. 


Any new project has the opportunity to create a new revenue stream for your business or grow your audience exponentially. Click here to help improve and optimize your concept testing for product success.

A James Hodges

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A James Hodges

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