The Biggest Fast Food Flops Of 2023

There's so much competition within the fast food sphere that fast food chains are always coming up with new ways to draw customers in and outshine any competitors. The rise of social media has made it much easier to create hype around new products. Restaurant Brands CEO José Cil spoke at a Morgan Stanley conference and noted that social media-based marketing has contributed to the success of the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. According to Cil, Popeyes had a great marketing team, which created the kind of social media hype that led customers to the restaurant. 

You remember the craze: You know, the one in which people literally stab each other over chicken sandwiches. 2023 may not have seen any fast food items that caused fanatical murderous frenzies. However, several fast-food giants made some questionable decisions in the quest for the next big thing: From strange flavor combinations to controversial marketing campaigns, these flops have left a sour taste in the mouths of customers and critics alike.

1. McDonald's Cardi B & Offset Meal

The Cardi B & Offset Meal was offered as a Valentine's Day promotion, and it featured the celebrity rapper couple's favorite fast food date night meal. It included Cardi B's beloved McDonald's Cheeseburger with tangy BBQ sauce with a large Coke and her husband's favorite, a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a Large Hi-C Orange Lavaburst. It also included a large portion of fries and an apple pie to share.  

Despite the star power behind this meal, it faced some significant backlash since some franchisees simply weren't feeling the love. Some complained that Cardi B's & Offset's reputations didn't coincide with McDonald's company values or the chain restaurant's family-friendly atmosphere. For this reason, some franchises refused to promote this meal, asserting that it violated the "Golden Arches Code," which, according to Fortune, restricts partnerships with influencers that could affect the brand negatively, as well as music partnerships that consist of offensive lyrics.  

However, the management at McDonald's didn't back down and defended the promotion: The chain's Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer for the U.S. market, Tariq Hassan asserted in a statement that Cardi B and Offset are an iconic couple and the chain is proud to be a part of the date night tradition.

2. Baskin-Robbins Chick'n & Waffles Ice Cream

Chicken and waffles and ice cream sounds like an incredible idea until you realize it involves eating buttermilk-flavored ice cream with chunks of imitation fried poultry-tasting pieces. Baskin-Robbins took a bold step in March with the introduction of its Chick'n & Waffles as the Flavor of the Month. Unfortunately, it was a flavor that just didn't fly.

Despite the initial buzz surrounding this sweet and savory treat, the combination of buttermilk waffle-flavored ice cream, crispy chick'n (which didn't contain any actual poultry), waffle bites, and bourbon maple syrup swirl failed to resonate with customers. While some enjoyed the novelty, the majority found the flavors to be an odd and unappetizing mix that contained overpowering chunks of salty imitation chicken.

Baskin-Robbins, in an attempt to promote the new flavor, hosted a Bottomless Brunch event in New York City. But it doesn't sound like people were lining up to drown themselves in this all-you-can-eat offering, as many on social media commented that the flavor was a bit too experimental and it sounded offputting. Ultimately, this is a scoop that will go down in Baskin-Robbins' history as a daring but unsuccessful experiment in flavor innovation.

3. Sweetgreen Chicken + Chipotle Pepper Bowl

The salad chain Sweetgreen's crunched some numbers and found that 70 percent of its customers chose chicken as their preferred protein. Based on this information, the company came up with a dish that it thought would be a sure winner: The Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl, which contains blackened pieces of poultry, roasted tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, garlic, and chipotle salsa over rice and lime cilantro black beans.

As Sweetgreen Co-Founder and Chief Concept Officer Nicolas Jammet said in a press release, the Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl was inspired by Chipotle's wonderful flavors. Integrated with whole grains and other delicious ingredients, it offered a filling meal option that could be enjoyed at any time of the day.

This big bowl idea, however, sparked controversy when Chipotle sued the salad chain for trademark infringement. The name and marketing of the bowl were the issues at hand, which the Mexican grill argued were too similar to its own Chicken Burrito Bowl. So, the salad chain eventually changed the name of its dish to the Chicken + Chipotle Pepper Bowl in an effort to resolve the lawsuit. 

4. Starbucks Oleato Coffee Drinks

Would you like some olive oil with your coffee? No? Well, neither would we. In fact, few people do, which is exactly why Starbucks' Oleato Coffee Drinks weren't very popular. The Oleato line was Starbucks' attempt to revolutionize the coffee experience by up playing the alchemy of its arabica coffee and Partanna extra virgin olive oil. The line included a Caffè Latte, Iced Shaken Espresso, and Golden Foam Cold Brew: These debuted in Italy before being introduced in select locations in Seattle, Japan, Chicago, London, New York, Paris, and Los Angeles. Then-CEO Howard Shultz gushed over the oily concoction, expressing his excitement for this unique product. 

Consumers, however, had the opposite reaction. According to The New Yorker, this drink basically consists of a large spoonful of olive oil in coffee. However, while Schultz, who was facing criticism for his company's alleged union-busting efforts, had hoped that this drink would revolutionize the industry, it essentially sent customers running to the bathroom and even allegedly induced stomach cramps. The negative press and the unappealing taste ultimately made Starbucks Oleato beverages a flop.

5. Chick-fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich

Chick-fil-A, known for its chicken, decided to venture into veggie-forward options with its Cauliflower Sandwich. This sandwich sounds like it could be a real hit and an excellent healthy alternative if done right. That's why the chicken chain spent about four years developing its first-ever plant-based entrée. A tender cauliflower filet serves as the main ingredient: The sandwich was marinated and breaded in a signature seasoning before being pressure cooked. It's served on a butter-smeared toasted bun with two dill pickle chips.

Chick-fil-A's Cauliflower Sandwich was the company's response to customers who asked for more vegetarian options. The company sought to provide more than two options to its customers looking to incorporate a healthier lifestyle. However, this sandwich also enraged some customers, who Tweeted that the chicken chain was pathetic and vowed against Chick-Fil-A altogether. 

Despite the hype and initial excitement, the Cauliflower Sandwich failed to impress customers, with many criticizing its lack of flavor, texture, and overall appeal: TikTok user morganchompz criticized the $7 price tag and reported that it just tasted like breading. The limited availability of this sandwich was another reason for its failure, as it was only released in three test markets; Denver; Charleston, South Carolina; and North Carolina's Greensboro-Triad region. As this sandwich had such a small sample size, it was difficult for it to gain traction and widespread appeal.

6. Dunkin' Breakfast Tacos

There are a couple of things that Dunkin' Donuts does well: Coffee and doughnuts. However, savory foods aren't its strong suit. Its egg sandwiches often have an artificial rubbery texture and a weird smell and taste. So, when Dunkin' Donuts launched its Breakfast Taco, people weren't exactly lining up.

Dunkin' Donuts introduced its Breakfast Tacos in March 2023: They featured scrambled eggs, melted sharp white cheddar cheese, fire-roasted corn, a lime crema drizzle, and optional crispy crumbled bacon in a soft white tortilla. The coffee chain was very enthusiastic about its new menu item: Dunkin's Chief Marketing Officer Jill McVicar Nelson said in a press release that the tacos are among the best breakfast items offered by Dunkin' Donuts. 

On the surface, it sounds like a win. But when customers went and paid for the product, they were disappointed with the results. While the advertisement shows an almost overflowing soft flour tortilla filled with fluffy eggs and crispy bacon bits, the reality was often an almost empty shell with a bit of cheese. A customer even mentioned these tacos on Reddit's Expectation vs. Reality page. Dunkin's Breakfast Tacos were overhyped and reflective of the unappetizing quality of Dunkin' Donuts' savory breakfast items. As a result, the breakfast tacos were quickly discontinued.

7. Burger King Mexican Original Chicken Sandwich

Burger King attempted to put a spicy twist on its classic poultry burger by introducing the Mexican Chicken Sandwich in January 2023. It featured a lightly breaded chicken breast, ghost pepper cheese, and crispy-fried jalapeños on a long sesame seed bun. Despite the promising concept, it failed to gain popularity among customers.

A commenter on Reddit explained that this sandwich is essentially the chicken rendition of the Ghost Pepper Whopper. The new menu item was apparently leaked online in a different Reddit post with the caption, "Shush don't tell anyone, ok?" The same thing happened with Burger King's Italian Mozzarella sandwich a few months prior.

Most people mocked the faux Mexican authenticity of this sandwich, while others just disliked the taste. One of the main issues with the Mexican Original Chicken Sandwich was the inconsistent level of its spiciness. Some customers found the sandwich to be too mild. According to one customer on Reddit, the jalapeños are barely detectable and the sandwich is definitely not worth the money.

8. Quiznos Lemon-Herb Lobster & Seafood Sub

Quiznos, known for its toasted sandwiches and unique flavors, offers its Lobster and Seafood sub to customers on a seasonal basis. 51 percent of the sandwich's meat is derived from the red-clawed critter. The other half is Alaskan whitefish sourced from King & Prince Seafood.

This sandwich is typically served with shredded lettuce on toasted bread. Reddit users who were brave enough to try this sandwich said it was awful: The bread tasted stale, and it was quite dry, so it likely could have benefited from some additional condiments. Plus, sandwich fans noted that this sandwich was served with lemon wedges on top, which were luckily spotted by the diner before they were eaten whole. Overall, Fast Food Geek gave this sandwich 2.5 stars. 

The chain has also introduced Cajun-flavored versions of the lobster sandwich in the past. In January 2023, Quiznos offered a lemon-herb sandwich alongside the original that was available at participating locations for around $9. The Southern Snack noted that it tasted like fish in a lemon tartar sauce: He further noted that this sub was  not that bizarre and that he was genuinely confused by the nature of the offering. 

9. KFC Spicy Slaw Chicken Wrap

KFC's Spicy Slaw Chicken Wrap was introduced as a limited-time offering alongside the Classic Chicken Wrap in February 2023. Before this dish was offered nationwide, it was piloted in Atlanta in 2022. These wraps were meant to cater to consumer demands for more portable, on-the-go menu options. Both wraps were served with an Extra Crispy Tender, crunchy pickles, and mayo. 

As KFC CMO Nick Chavez said in a press release, fans had long demanded the return of fried chicken wraps, and KFC answered the call with these offerings.  Unfortunately, both the Classic and Spicy wraps were critiqued for their stingy portions, which meant customers didn't quite feel like they were getting decent value for their money. But it was the fiery variant in particular that caught the attention of fast food critics alike for all the wrong reasons.

Some customers reported receiving wraps with too little coleslaw or an excessive amount of spicy sauce, leading to an unpleasant eating experience. Some reviewers noted that while the spicy sauce adds a nice dash of flavor, it quickly becomes mixed in with the slaw. The Spicy Slaw Chicken was critiqued for its inconsistent quality across different KFC outlets. The main issue was its unbalanced flavor profile. Both wraps no longer appear on the menu.

10. Burger King Semla Dessert Burger

Burger King is no stranger to pushing the envelope in terms of introducing new and bizarre menu items. However, its attempt at creating a dessert burger inspired by the Swedish pastry left a bad taste in many customers' mouths. The Burger King Semla Dessert Burger was offered for a limited time in Denmark during Lent. Semla, also known as a Mardi Gras bun, is something that's usually eaten once on Fat Tuesday or Fettisdag before people embark on fasting for Lent. 

The Burger King Semla Dessert Burger featured a sweet bun cardamon bun filled with whipped cream, marzipan cream, and a brownie that looked like a beef patty. The resemblance to a hamburger threw people off, giving them a "yuck" factor that was strong enough to prevent them from even trying it: YouTubers Justin + Geoff felt that the burger looked somewhat disgusting. They also said that it smelled like a greasy Burger King hamburger. 

In customer photos of the burger, all the whipped cream was melted, making this a messy option. Fast food critics noted that while the texture is quite juicy, the flavors are fairly bland. There's nothing exceptional about this burger, so it's likely not worth trying again and again. This dessert burger never made it onto the permanent menu.

11. Burger King Spicy Chicken Fries

Spicy Chicken Fries were introduced to the Burger King menu in 2023. The chicken pieces were covered in a mixture of spices that were intended to pack just as much of a punch as the previous varieties of Buffalo- and jalapeños-flavored chicken fries. Additionally, the eye-catching packaging featuring a wicked-looking chicken contributed to the hype among fast food enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, Burger King's Spicy Chicken Fries have been a letdown for many customers. While the heat level is indeed higher than the original version, the overall taste and texture leave much to be desired. The chicken is finely ground and squishy, and the breading is thick and craggy, resulting in a less satisfying crunch. Moreover, the spicy flavor is reminiscent of the discontinued Ghost Pepper Nuggets. One reviewer noted that most people preferred their chicken tenders thicker, not thinner, other critics noted that the flavor lacked depth and only offered only a novelty burn.

12. McDonald's onion-laced hamburgers

Part of what makes McDonald's one of the most successful fast-food restaurants is its consistency. Customers know that no matter which U.S. outlet they hit, the food will always taste the same. And yet, after carefully building that reputation over decades, McDonald's announced that "small but tasty improvements" were on the way for the Big Mac, McDouble, double cheeseburger, hamburger, and cheeseburger. The changes included soft toasted buns, better cheese slices, grilling onions with the burger patties, and more special sauce on the Big Mac.

McDonald's earned the ire of its most loyal patrons, as well as a lot of skepticism and backlash, too. Incorporating onions into the beef during preparation — a method based on Oklahoma-style burgers — drummed up the most controversy. "As someone who hates onions, I'm worried about McDonald's new policy of cooking onions directly on the grill," one customer tweeted. "I have a significant intolerance to onions. They make me quite ill within 15-20 mins," said another. "I guess McDonald's really doesn't want my business," another onion-hating consumer commented, pointing out that the chain already adds raw onions to its burgers. Nevertheless, McDonald's will continue to test market the changes with a full national rollout complete by early 2024.

13. Culver's replacement of Pepsi with Coke

Coke vs. Pepsi is one of the fiercest rivals in the food world. Many consumers swear allegiance to one brand of sweet bubbly cola over the other, and the idea of trying the opposition's product is unthinkable. Coca-Cola and Pepsi have each carved out significant swaths of the fast-food sector, with their line of products virtually the exclusive soft drinks on hand chain-wide. 

In January 2023, Culver's announced that its 930 stores would soon begin dispensing Coke products — shifting away from Pepsi for the first time since the restaurant chain was established in 1984. Culver's didn't immediately disclose the reason for the sudden vendor revamp, but according to employees who discussed the matter on Reddit, it's likely about money. 

Culver's customers, or at least those who count on getting a Pepsi-made drink to go with their meals, were incensed and disappointed. One customer tweeted (via the Post Crescent) that the change was "a major bummer," while another wrote to Culver's and told them they'd eat elsewhere until "you switch back to Pepsi." 

14. Popeyes Spicy TRUFF Chicken Sandwich

Sometimes, a dual-company collaboration makes for brilliance. Other times, however, it produces a disastrous result. And in the case of the Spicy TRUFF Chicken Sandwich from Popeyes, a seasonal sandwich featuring a standard spicy Popeyes chicken patty topped with the TRUFF sauce company's truffle-flavored spicy mayonnaise, the creation, unfortunately, seemed to fall into the latter category.

The Spicy TRUFF Chicken Sandwich was released in mid-October and ran all the way until November 26th, and while both TRUFF and Popeyes were likely expecting positive reactions to their culinary mash-up, they received quite the opposite. It wasn't just disappointed Reddit users who were referring to the sandwich as nasty, smelly, or terrible. The Washington Post itself called the menu item a "flop," describing the strange-tasting sandwich as an attempt by the fast food franchise to emulate a luxury or fine-dining product that fell incredibly — almost laughably — short. It's safe to say that we can't imagine this one coming back for a round two release any time soon.

15. Dunkin's Ice Spice MUNCHKINS Drink

Similar to how McDonald's employed artists Cardi B and Offset to create a menu item, Dunkin' used the hip hop star Ice Spice as apparent inspiration for a new beverage — the Ice Spice Munchkins Drink. Though many found it hard to believe, the product called for actual blended munchkin donut holes as part of its recipe ... and according to consumers and employees alike, this made it hard to swallow.

"Store Manager here," said an alleged employee on Reddit. "We all tried it today and it's one of the nastiest things Dunkin has come up with in a long time. The texture in your mouth feels like when you throw up [...] no flavor either beside the munchkins, which ruin the texture of the drink." There's no denying it — the drink grossed people out, and it appears it didn't take long for the company to realize it. Although no announcement has been made in an official sense, it appears the overly-saccharine beverage can no longer be found on Dunkin's website — leading us to believe that the company may be trying to quietly phase out this failure of a product in an attempt to pretend it never happened in the first place.

16. Chick-fil-A's Caramel Crumble Milkshake

This year, Chick-fil-A released two new and intriguing menu items for the 2023 fall season. One was the Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich, featuring a chicken patty topped with the chain's standard sliced pickles and a honey-and-pimento-cheese spread. The second was dubbed the Caramel Crumble Milkshake — and while the first item came with raving consumer reviews, the second product did not.

"Anyone else NOT like the Caramel Crumble Milkshake?" reads the title of a Reddit thread from a few months ago, when the beverage had just begun circulating. "Was really pumped to try it," said a responding user on the post. "It has a medicinal taste to it like imitation vanilla, I couldn't get into it." Another commented to say that the blondie crumbles within the drink — which were intended to be part of the shake's appeal — were ultimately less than appetizing. "What I didn't like about it was 'all the crunchy bits', it was too much for me. I couldn't just drink it without having to chew each sip." Though the beverage was only offered on a limited-time basis, we have all seen instances when a fast food limited edition item is brought back and welcomed with open arms by happy consumers. But based on the consistent negative feedback from buyers, we can't imagine that the Caramel Crumble Milkshake will ever return.

17. Wendy's Pumpkin Spice Frosty

The Wendy's Frosty is truly iconic and has been offered since 1969. But despite the product's longevity and consistency, Wendy's has, for the most part, kept the flavors of its signature creamy shake relatively basic. This past fall, however, the company stepped out on a limb and tried something completely new when it developed a signature Frosty featuring everyone's favorite autumn flavor profile: pumpkin spice.

Unfortunately, while many of us wanted this newcomer to the fall food scene to be a triumph for the burger company, it was bombarded with negative feedback. It inspired threads such as "The pumpkin frosty is insanely bad," on Reddit, or "Wendy's Pumpkin Frosty FAIL," on Youtube. Ultimately, the frozen treat ended up being nothing but a trick for the majority of those who tasted it. "It [the Pumpkin Spice Frosty] tastes like how I'd imagine eating a 99-cent store pumpkin candle would taste," stated the Reddit user who crafted the above thread. "It had a really potent perfume-like metallic aftertaste too. How did that make it through testing?" While we give our beloved Wendy's credit for taking a risk, this one, we are sad to say, did not pay off. Thankfully, the hated fall beverage has officially been booted and replaced by the much better-liked Peppermint Frosty in time for the winter — that should hopefully help wash the taste of its predecessor down for good.

18. Arby's Deluxe Wagyu Steakburger

In 2021, a brand-new burger was introduced by the beloved fast food chain that has all the meats. The Arby's Deluxe Wagyu Steakburger was a meat-and-cheese creation sandwiched in a brioche bun and topped with sauce, pickles, onions, and tomatoes. After a two-year hiatus, the item was reintroduced to the menu in 2023 — but the reaction this news brought with it was hardly celebratory in nature.

"There are much better fast food burgers out there," said one consumer on a Reddit discussion regarding the steakburger's initial release. "Not impressed at all." Another user on this same thread outlined their own beef with the sandwich, as well, blaming their disappointment on an overload of unnecessary ingredients. "...wagyu is supposed to be served as plainly as possible so the taste and texture are not lost," reads a piece of the user's comment. Unfortunately, the more recent threads developed after the burger's comeback this year weren't much better. On one in particular, instead of users discussing their excitement over the return of the lost dish, they discussed their boredom with it — reminiscing instead about superior discontinued Arby's items they wish had made the cut, instead. Needless to say, it'll be a shock if this disappointing burger makes it through to 2024.