The Oreo Cookie Shake is coming back to Applebee's, thanks to country singer Walker Hayes and his song "Fancy Like."
Applebee's ditched the item when it slimmed down its menu during the pandemic. But after the song came out in June and started to go viral, the chain decided to bring back the shake for a limited time starting Monday.
Casual dining chains like Applebee's have struggled in recent years as they face more competition from fast casual brands like Panera and Chipotle, and online delivery offered through the likes of Grubhub and DoorDash. The pandemic was the latest blow. But Applebee's is seeing sales grow again — the second quarter was its best in years. A buzzy song can help keep momentum going.
The song "created buzz and chatter and among team members [and] among guests," John Cywinski, president of Applebee's, told CNN Business. "We do have people singing it and dancing to it in our restaurants," he added. "We love being part of the conversation."
When a restaurant chain is referenced in pop culture, it can be good for business.
Sales at Red Lobster spiked the weekend Beyoncé released "Formation," a song that mentioned its food as a reward for sex. And after Taylor Swift mentioned Olive Garden in the song "no body, no crime," from her 2020 album 'evermore,' Eugene Lee, CEO of Olive Garden's parent company Darden Restaurants thanked her. "When Taylor Swift drops our name in the song, our brand becomes very, very relevant," Lee said during a December analyst call. "It's a 40-plus year old brand that's all of a sudden relevant with her audience."
Being part of the zeitgeist can also help recruit employees.
"Hiring team members in this environment is a challenge. And retaining them is challenging," Cywinski said. "What we found is team members really liked to be a part of something bigger."
To ride the 'Fancy Like' wave, Applebee's had to act fast. "There's a window of opportunity when you have a cultural phenomenon like 'Fancy Like," Cywinski said. A song could be viral today and gone tomorrow.
"We had to ensure that all the restaurants had the ingredients on short notice," he said. Typically, Applebee's likes to have about 12 months to launch an item.
It also has to make sure that customers are aware that the item is back. To spread the word, the chain is launching commercials showing people dancing to the song. Applebee's also put together a menu insert featuring a photo of Hayes and his wife sharing an Oreo shake, the relevant lyrics and a QR code that allows diners to see TikTok videos featuring the song, among other things.
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