After singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” for 27 years, Mariah Carey would love something from McDonald’s too.
The pop star is teaming up with the fast food giant on “the Mariah menu”, 12 days of deals offered through the McDonald’s app from December 13 to 24, starting with a Big Mac on December 13 and ending with cookies with chocolate chips on December 24.
One of the biggest restaurant trends in 2021 has been the pop star promotions.
Here’s a look at some of the things that have shaped the restaurant industry throughout the year.
McDonald’s embraced hip-hop and TikTok in a revolutionary way through its “Famous Orders” campaign.
It all started with a partnership with Travis Scott in September 2020 which included a Travis Scott meal – Quarter Pounder with Cheese, fries, barbecue sauce and a Sprite – and merchandise.
McDonald’s followed up with Famous Orders for J Balvin and ventured into the world of K-Pop with the BTS group. These celebrity meals repackaged foods that were already on the McDonald’s menu, sometimes adding special sauce pouches as a novelty. The Saweetie Meal, offered in July, includes a “Saweetie ‘N Sour” sauce for dipping Chicken McNuggets.
McDonald’s was not alone
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen teamed up with rapper Megan Thee Stallion on Megan Thee Stallion Hottie Sauce for their Chicken Sandwiches and Nuggets in October.
Taco Bell has named Little Nas X as Impact Manager, an honorary title that the channel said “would allow him to collaborate from within on the brand’s experience.”
And Snoop Dogg continued his association with Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, which included working for a drive-thru window at a Dallas restaurant.
Fried chicken sandwiches have become a staple of quick-service menus. The so-called Chicken Sandwich Wars began in August 2019, when Popeyes Louisiana Chicken added a sandwich to their menu, taking on Chick-fil-A, and in 2021 no one seemed willing to call a truce.
“Now it’s enough for everyone to have a chicken sandwich,” said marketing expert Deb Gabor, author of “Irrational Loyalty,” a book about how businesses connect with consumers.
Carl’s Jr. went for crispy chicken, added sandwiches to its standing menu and breakfast menu, and then offered limited-time deals. Burger King, McDonald’s and Farmer Boys have taken similar steps.
Chains already known for chicken, like KFC and Wendy’s, have added new chicken sandwiches to their menus.
Jollibee, a fast-growing Asian restaurant chain in the United States, entered the fray in September with its Jollibee Chickenwich and in December introduced Spicy Chickenjoy, a spicier version of its signature fried chicken.
With restaurants closed or unable to use all of their space due to the lockdown, the novel coronavirus has created a climate of growth for online brands that are ordered through delivery services. They bring food to the public instead of forcing people to come to them.
These businesses are called virtual kitchens. Other frequently used terms include ghost kitchens and cloud kitchens. They often have short menus focused on items that travel well, like chicken wings.
The appeal for entrepreneurs lies in the low start-up costs and fewer real estate headaches.
Robert Earl, co-founder of Virtual Dining Concepts, was selected by Quick Service Restaurants magazine as one of the top digital disruptors of 2021. Last year he launched Mr. Beast Burger, a partnership with the influencer Jimmy Donaldson, who has 62 million YouTube subscribers.
Earl has also teamed up with celebrity chef Guy Fieri and other stars such as Mariah Carey, whose collaboration with McDonald’s includes free cookies, possibly putting her in competition with her own online cookie business.
One of his new concepts is Buddy V’s Cake Slice, a partnership with “Cake Boss” star Buddy Valastro that can be ordered in towns across Southern California, from Encino to Yucaipa, according to his website.
Well-established restaurant chains are also embarking on virtual concepts. Among them is Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which in June launched a virtual brand called Big Deal Burgers. Cracker Barrel, which has only two locations in the Inland Empire, has extended its footprint in Hollywood through a virtual operation called Cracker Barrel Kitchen.
The growing awareness among consumers of what they put in their bodies has led several restaurant chains to describe their foods as minimally processed or “real”.
Islands Restaurant, a casual chain, launched a “clean food” campaign last summer, promoting its custom fries.
In August, Shake Shack bragged about Damon Roy, the New Orleans beekeeper who generated much of the raw honey used in the icing of the chain’s Hot Honey Chicken sandwich.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, which boasts of the limited number of ingredients in its food, goes one step further by campaigning for sustainability. In November, it announced a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 in its supply chain, restaurant operations and packaging.
Chipotle also implements its real food theme in its online products. This month, it launched an “all natural” coriander bar soap.
The fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic continues months after dining rooms in California reopened.
Restaurants strive to make customer experiences as normal as possible, but staff shortages remain a challenge.
Some have responded by shortening their menus, shortening their hours or opening fewer days.
But the challenge isn’t limited to the number of employees, according to Mike Whatley, vice president of state affairs and advocacy for the National Restaurant Association.
It is the loss of experience and even of a friendly face that the guests remember.
“We have lost a lot of talent, both in front and behind the house,” he said in a telephone interview.
“There are a lot of people who go to restaurants because of their favorite waiter or bartender. If that person has left the industry or restaurant, it affects the customer experience.