Dear Wendy’s, Where’s the Beef??

Posted on October 16, 2012

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Wendy’s, I hate to tell you this, but your “revamping” effort is focusing on all the wrong things.

Wendy’s used to be one of my favorite fast-food places.  Those big, juicy, oddly square burgers individually assembled for each customer.  The thick fries, crispy outside and piping hot inside.  Those rich chocolate “Frosty” shakes.  I loved their baked potatoes with the different toppings.  And I don’t recall – until recently – ever getting a meal that was flattened, soggy, stale, or otherwise unappetizing.

All of that has changed.  After a bit of a hiatus, my husband and I decided to pick up some Wendy’s meals on the way home from a busy morning.  I was actually looking forward to it, but as I wrote previously, the experience inside the restaurant was less than ideal thanks to a language barrier.  After a long wait, we got something we had not ordered, and we were over-charged by about $4.00.  There were a lot of customer-service points lost there.

Where’s the beef?

But the worst part was, the food itself was a real disappointment.  Whenever I go to Wendy’s, I know exactly what I want:  single, cheese, everything, no ketchup, no mustard – a good classic burger.  Having the same meal every time makes it easy to compare, you know?  And this last one, well, the burger seemed thin and shrunken.  Remember the old Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” commercials?  One might ask Wendy’s that question now.  On my sandwich, the bun was mashed and lopsided with the toppings going in all directions.  Even the Frosty was bland and tasteless compared to my recollection of Frosties past.  So there were a lot of food-quality points lost on this visit, too.  And if your customer service and your food quality both pretty much suck, what else is there to keep anyone coming back?

What the burger is supposed to look like, and indeed it used to.

What the burgers look like lately. Credit: Photobucket, 2009.

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The current Wendy’s execs seem to have some thoughts on this, and are pushing a “transformation.”  Oh, boy.   Throw a caution flag.  I’ve seen enough transformations and reorganizations to know that most of the time, they amount to a lot of light and heat and noise, but in the end, nothing is really improved.  In a lot of cases, it blows a lot of money and effort and actually ends up making things worse.  Organizations get caught up in “processes,” jargon, and the latest catchwords, and forget their focus, their mission, the source of their original success.  So what’s the light, heat, and noise in Wendy’s “transformation”?  Cushy chairs, soft lighting, a new logo, sleeker uniforms, flatscreen TVs and digital menu boards.  Oh, and some new menu items.   According to the Associated Press, Wendy’s “goal is to be a five-star restaurant at a three-star price.”

That all sounds okay in theory, but all the comfy chairs in the world won’t save any restaurant from its own bad food, and fast-food places are really only about food and price.  Good food + low price = success.  Wendy’s is increasing its overhead costs, but to what end?  Will they have to cut the quality of their ingredients, or raise prices?  Where is the focus on the thing that people come for – the burgers?

There is a reason Five Guys is the top-rated burger chain in America, and they don’t even advertise!  Five Guys uses top-quality ingredients to do just a few things:  burgers, hot dogs, fries.  They’re not selling health-consciousness.  They’re not selling ambiance.  They’re not selling TV or wi-fi.  They’re not selling service to people with dietary concerns.  They’re selling thick, hearty, messy, beefy burgers and generous helpings of fries deep-fried in peanut oil, and they are doing that really, really well.

How did Wendy’s rate on that same opinion survey?  A dismal #10.  After our lunch experience a couple of weeks ago, we are not surprised.

So Wendy’s, I know you have a lot of money and executive reputations and pet projects tied up in your “transformation” (yeah, see, I do know what these things are like), but your real competition is not Panera or Chipotle or bagel-sandwich places.  Your competition is other burger places.  So focus on the burgers.  Get back to doing those right, and success will follow.  No transformation needed.

Related article:  Language Barriers and Customer Service

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