2010 in Review

  • It’s been a heck of a year, from Burger King’s buyout to BP’s oil spill. We deliver the stories that rocked our industry.

    15. Domino’s Fesses Up

    No quick serve has drastically changed its signature menu item’s recipe quite like Domino’s did at the beginning of 2010. Even more surprising than the change in ingredients, though, were the marketing efforts to push the new pie. Rather than focus solely on the new offering, the company created advertisements that had its own executives telling customers that the old pizza recipe was no good.

    “What consumers were looking for was honesty and transparency because nobody was giving it to them at that point,” says Russell Weiner, chief marketing officer for Domino’s.

    The honesty paid off: Same-store sales in the first quarter of 2010, when the advertisements ran, increased 14.3 percent over 2009. —SO

    16. Arby’s Taps New President

    With U.S. systemwide sales falling almost $150 million and with store counts dropping by more than 150 units in 2009 from 2008, Arby’s needed a jolt in 2010. Enter Hala Moddelmog, who became the chain’s new president under parent company Wendy’s/Arby’s Group Inc. in May, replacing former president and CEO Tom Garrett. Moddelmog will use her previous experience as president of Church’s Chicken, a position she held from 1995 to 2004, to jumpstart the struggling sandwich brand. —SO

    17. Free WiFi for Everyone

    McDonald’s decision to offer free WiFi at all its restaurants forced Starbucks and others to ditch their paid services and follow suit.

    “Customers are increasingly requesting, even expecting, free WiFi,” says H.G. Parsa, professor of hospitality management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. —BW

    18. Heinz Debuts New Packet Design

    Necessity is the mother of invention, and apparently the old saying is also true for the mother of all ketchup companies—Heinz. At the beginning of 2010, the company debuted its new Dip & Squeeze design, the first change to Heinz’s ketchup packet in 42 years.

    “[It] was really a package pulled together by the needs and insights of our consumers,” David Sykes, senior brand manager for Heinz Ketchup, said of the new design when it launched.

    Customers can either peel back the lid for easy dipping or tear off the edge of the package and squeeze out the ketchup as normal.

    Each package contains three times as much ketchup as the old packets—a design change that was incorporated because Heinz discovered the average consumer uses three of the 9-gram packets for one order of medium or large fries.

    “Because we addressed the messiness issue and it’s easier to open, moms now feel more confident letting their kids use this package in the backseat,” Sykes said. —BC, RVT

    19. Flavors Heat Up

    This year, concepts from Chick-fil-A to Subway turned up the heat with new, spicier menu offerings.

    “If you look at what’s happening on quick-serve menus today, there are so many more spicy choices than there ever were before,” says Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG Trend Insight at Mintel. “Consumers are looking to restaurants for flavor profiles that they wouldn’t do themselves or that they wouldn’t be able to duplicate at home—especially now during the recession.” —RVT

    20. Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet

    Taco Bell rang in the year by holding the fat calories and bringing on the “Frescolution” with its Drive-Thru Diet menu. The Frescolution is a pledge to be active and eat better by choosing from seven Fresco items on the menu that all contain less than 9 grams of fat. With calorie reductions of 20–100 compared with regular menu items, the Fresco Burrito Supreme Chicken or the Fresco Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco ensure that diners like the company’s diet sensation Christine Dougherty can have their fast food and skinny jeans, too. —LZ

    21. New Segment Emerges: Flex Casual

    Maybe it was the economy forcing diners to spend less or maybe it’s just Americans’ increasingly busy schedules, but casual-dining chains are being forced to loosen the reins on their segment and try their hands at quick-service models instead. Brands that took the quick-serve plunge this year included East Coast Wings & Grill, Denny’s, and Huddle House. —BC

    22. 4food Puts Technology on the Menu

    Q: What do you get when you cross a burger joint with Apple technology?

    A: 4food restaurant in New York City.

    Stocked with iPads and Androids for online ordering, 4food is the first quick serve of its kind to make such a tweet with social media. 4food relies on social media to extend powerful word-of-mouth marketing. Customers who register an account can create their own burger, name it, and promote it on websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. Each time someone orders that burger, the creator gets a 25-cent store credit, as well as $12 just for registering. —LZ

    Comedian Steven Colbert pokes fun at Domino’s new marketing strategy.

    23. Three Signs Fast Food is Officially Part of Pop Culture

    1. Cupcakes Get a Reality Show Three years ago, sisters Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis worked corporate jobs. But in June, the two owners of Georgetown Cupcake became the stars of TLC’s reality TV show, DC Cupcakes. TLC chose to feature the pair after their concept opened in 2008 to instant success, quickly selling more than 5,000 cupcakes a day.
    2. Domino ’s on The Colbert Report Steven Colbert, one of Comedy Central’s resident parody pros, named Domino’s “Alpha Dog of the Week” in January for the ad campaign it introduced to promote its new pizza recipe. On the segment, Colbert pokes fun at the brand for admitting “universal condemnation of their product”—and then asking customers to come back for more. “Is that pizza, or did an angel just give birth in my mouth?” Colbert asks after tasting the new recipe.
    3. KFC Twitter Tag Starts ‘Trending’ QSR’s 2010 pop culture list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning KFC’s Double Down. The menu item—which swaps out a bun for two fried chicken patties around bacon, cheese, and the Colonel’s sauce—was announced April 1. (Some bloggers and reporters have said that they first thought KFC’s announcement was an April Fool’s joke.) Just one of the many signs that the breadless concoction was the most buzzed-about thing to happen in the industry this year: #doubledown started trending on Twitter. —RVT