Reality and fiction have a habit of blurring together on social media, often with unpredictable results. A restaurant brand can quickly get swept up in such viral moments—whether it wants to or not—and it can be tough to get ahead of a reality-obscuring post as it racks up retweets and shares. Rather than fight the momentum, some operators are jumping in on the joke. Here are a few such examples that have surfaced in recent weeks.
McDonald’s jumps through time and television
The internet’s love for nostalgia was underscored by the pressure recently piled on McDonald’s to bring back a favorite dipping sauce from the ‘90s. After the chain’s Szechuan Sauce played a prominent role in the Cartoon Network show “Rick and Morty,” devoted fans of the sci-fi cartoon took to social media to beg for a return of the sauce, even spawning a Change.org petition that garnered over 37,000 signatures.
McDonald’s took a playful never-say-never stance on reintroducing popular items, and a few months later, tapped into the buzz in a creative way. Rather than bring back the discontinued sauce, a lofty endeavor, they sent some remaining stock to “Rick and Morty” co-creator Justin Roiland, along with a note explaining that the sauce had been smuggled from an alternate dimension “where it’s always 1998.” The company also gave away gallons of the sauce to a few special fans via a Twitter contest, which received over 28k retweets and 44k likes.
Olive Garden makes it personal (in a good way)
After an Allure deputy editor took to Twitter to alert Olive Garden to the magazine staff’s obsession with its breadsticks, the restaurant chain returned some love in an unexpected way. Rather than simply show appreciation, the restaurant responded by mocking up the cover for a fictional Alfredo magazine—playing off of Allure’s signature cover style, down to a similar font for the headline. The creative tweet received a positive response on social media, even spawning similar cover mockups from Outback Steakhouse and the Cheesecake Factory, and nabbed Olive Garden some press as well.
Outback dodges online conspiracy theorists
Sometimes a merely bizarre story can turn into something much bigger once social media is involved. One Twitter user recently noticed a strange design after mapping the distance between Outback Steakhouse locations in four different cities. The resulting design, a star pattern, spawned the user to suggest the chain was plotting something demonic or Satanic in nature. That tweet quickly took off, with over 119k retweets.
Outback took the accusation in stride, quickly responding with a pic of its Bloomin’ Onion over a map, suggesting the chain was plotting out its signature dish all along. When pressed further on the nefarious findings, they kept the joke going by tweeting “If the Bloomin’ Onion is evil then we don’t want to be nice.” Rather than deny or change the direction of the conversation, Outback joined in on the joke, and received over 3,000 retweets with its simple reply.