Launched: 1993, still available seasonally in the northeastern United States and Canada.
Seafood offerings have been a mixed bag for McDonald’s over the years. On the positive end, there’s the Filet-O-Fish, a menu staple since the 1960s and a go-to for customers with a wide range of dietary restrictions. On the other end, there’s the McLobster.
The McLobster is basically a low-rent lobster roll – a hot dog bun filled with shredded lobster meat, shredded lettuce, and something called “lobster sauce.” It was a commercial disappointment for McDonald’s nationally (and we’d be willing to guess that there were supply problems in certain regions), but it still makes occasional appearances in locations in the Northeast and Canada, where lobster is abundant in the warmer months. In 2011, rumors swirled that the McLobster would re-emerge on the national stage for a limited run, but nothing came of them.
Most of the entries on this list seem hilariously wrongheaded in hindsight. But massive product misses like the McLobster are par for the course in an industry predicated on variety and the ability to constantly turn heads, argues Andrew Smith, a food historian and author of “Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food.”
“Even these failures are tremendous successes,” he says. “Something like the McLobster gets huge news, and social media goes crazy, and when they take it off the menu they get even more publicity. It’s huge in terms of the amount of visibility they get, just doing something surprising.”
The salad bar was a fixture in Wendy’s restaurants for decades; they were finally phased out in 2006. But for a brief period in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, the salad bar was expanded to a full-blown buffet.
In addition to a salad and fruit station (called the “Garden Spot”), the Wendy’s Superbar had Mexican and Italian food “stations” called “Mexican Fiesta” and “Pasta Pasta,” respectively. And it was cheap: All you could eat for $2.99, in most areas.
“You can have just about anything, even if you’re in the mood for everything!” one television spot boasted.
The downfall of the Wendy’s Superbar wasn’t customer interest. In fact, Googling “Wendy’s Superbar” will turn up dozens of rave reviews, fond memories (including one Wendy’s Superbar thread on a mixed martial arts forum), and at least three separate Facebook groups lobbying for its return. But keeping a buffet stocked and clean is hard work, especially coupled with the task of serving Wendy’s traditional over-the-counter menu. It was discontinued in 1998.
3. Bell Beefer
Chain: Taco Bell
Launched: Late 1970s
To repeat an oft-repeated joke, Taco Bell wasn’t always thinking outside the bun. In the late 1970s, the newbie fast-food chain had a different slogan, “The Fresh Food Place,” and a hamburger on its menu. According to customer accounts, the Taco Bell Beefer was a lot like a sloppy Joe, with taco-seasoned ground beef topped with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. It was phased out in the early 1980s in favor of the strictly Tex Mex-inspired fare we see on Taco Bell menus today.