Wendy’s and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad public-relations week

Marketing Bites: After its now-walked back comments about dynamic pricing, the burger chain is catching the flame-grilled indignation of some restaurant competitors.
Wendy's is having a rough public-relations week after it walked back comments around dynamic pricing. | Photo: Shutterstock
Marketing Bites

On social media, Wendy’s has long been known as a purveyor of saucy clapbacks.

But the burger chain is finding itself the target of much virtual tomato-throwing this week following a brouhaha brought on by its CEO’s comments about dynamic pricing in a call with analysts.

Kirk Tanner earlier this month said the company would start testing “enhanced features like dynamic pricing” as early as next year.

The New York Post treated the comments with its usual measured tone (that is sarcasm, people), and the Wendy’s surge-pricing kerfuffle was born.

Late Tuesday, though, Wendy’s walked back its earlier comments, saying it has no plans to raise prices during its busiest times and that it never did.

Already the target of scorn from virtually every corner of the internet, including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren who called it “price gouging plain and simple,” Wendy’s is now getting ribbing from its fellow restaurant brands.

Competitor Burger King jumped on the bandwagon Wednesday, offering diners a free Whopper or Impossible Whopper via its app through Friday, with a purchase of $3 or more.

“Because we don’t believe in charging guests more when they’re hungry,” Burger King said in a press release, adding, “Surge pricing? Well, that’s new. Good thing the only thing surging at BK is our flame.”

Casual-dining chain Chili’s posted a screenshot of the New York Post Wendy’s headline on X, formerly Twitter, saying, “Chili’s is here for you … again” and asking fans to post using the #ChilisFastFoodSupportGroup hashtag about why Chili’s is better than fast food to win free food.

Said one entrant: “Chili’s wouldn’t raise prices on us during busy times.” To which Chili’s replied, “We would never do that to you bestie.”

Consumer brands are also getting in on the action.

AriZona Iced Tea noted on X that it “has been 99 cents for 30 years.”

Election-year ad spending

Portillo’s, the fast casual known for its Chicago-style menu of Italian beef, hot dogs and more, has its roots in the Windy City. But the chain, which went public in 2021, is planting its flag around the country and working to increase brand awareness outside its home turf.

But don’t expect it to do much TV advertising as the year goes on, CEO Michael Osanloo told analysts this week.

“I’m not telling you anything that’s state secrets, but trying to advertise during an election cycle is, you know, a really tough spend,” Osanloo said, according to a transcript from financial services site AlphaSense. “So, we’re probably not advertising the back half of this year anywhere in the country. We would get shouted out by local politicians.”

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