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Wendy’s Surge Pricing: Fans Amazed, Aggrieved, Alienated!

Wow! Fans exploded with rage against Wendy’s Surge Pricing. The resto chain’s new CEO casually mentioned the plan during an earnings conference call a few days ago. And it’s as if he threw a match into a bucket of gasoline…

Wendy's Sign - © 2019 - Allen Creative - Steve AllenMaybe they should change the recipe to ‘coercion’. Or simply, ‘brainwashing’…

I wonder if Wendy’s new CEO, Kirk Tanner, had any idea what kind of Pandora’s Box he was peeking into? He low-key told investors that Wendy’s was going ahead with a mega plan to institute surge pricing’. And he seemed oblivious to what anybody with a clear understanding of the fan base would know was coming.

What it is

Surge pricing is a slang tern for what’s known officially as ‘dynamic pricing’. Tanner described it as a massive store upgrade to install AI-driven digital menu boards, able to change prices anytime, based on data from the store’s cash registers as to when the busiest times of day were happening. ‘AI-enabled menu changes’ would automatically raise prices when traffic got heavier. A process, as marketing types used to boast, ‘untouched by human hands’.

Tanner enlarged on the concept saying it would include ‘daypart offerings‘ custom tailored to community preference patterns as reflected in sales analyses for each store. And the system would also engage in ‘suggestive selling’.

The surge pricing program is being implemented immediately and is expected to hit the chain with full force in late 2025.

What the fans are saying

Parade.com offered a cross section of fan reaction on X (formerly Twitter):

“Hey @Wendys, will you also be paying your workers more during these surge ‘dynamic’ pricing hours?” one X member asked.

“No one specifically needs Wendy’s when McDonald’s is 2 blocks down.” another pointed out.

But perhaps most incitefully, one poster suggested:

“The consumer will go to another restaurant if they even suspect surge pricing will be in effect.”

“Surge pricing is just Price Gouging by any other name,” declared another. “We really don’t have to put up with these companies price gouging us. Go anywhere else.”

My take

I literally felt a chill run up my spine when I first read about the Wendy’s surge pricing plan. I’m old enough to have been compelled to read George Orwell’s 1894 in school. And I definitely suffered a hard, involuntary flashback to it.

Goodreads.com‘s plot synopsis can be summed up in this one line, about, “…a world ruled by warring states and a power structure that controls not only information but also individual thought and memory, 1984 is a prophetic haunting tale.” Sounds like our world today. And takes a swipe at the persistent disinformation and propaganda we are all bombarded with daily. The classic terms ‘Thought Police’ and ‘Big Brother’ entered the language directly out of 1984.

‘Big Burger Is Watching’!

I’m not trying to be funny, much less make light of my feelings about Wendy’s AI-mastered plan to juggle prices. I wanted to make a point. This development marks a bizarre, even frightening point in the history of Fast Food. If other chains also go to surge pricing, Fast Food fans will be nothing more than  pawns in the industry’s system.

They’ll literally be telling you what to eat via ‘suggestive selling’. And they’ll be telling you when to eat based on lowering prices when is slower. Specific patterns will emerge for each store based on community-demonstrated preferences.

Always had suspicions

I  have always been suspicious about the marketing strategy and tactics of the Fast Food chains. They’ve always targeted the most vulnerable of the urban human herd. It started with high school students. In the early days, McDonald’s made no secret that it wanted its stores with in a certain minimum distance from a high school. Many municipalities later passed bylaws aimed at keeping Fast Food restos farther away. Where it would be inconvenient for kids to leave the school at lunch time, or skip school to ‘hang out’.

Passive to active control

But now, with surge pricing and associated tactics like daypart offerings, the Fast Food industry is go9ing from passive manipulation – i.e.- traditional advertising – to active manipulation. They’re making us offers we can’t refuse. Holding our wallets to ransom: “Come when we tell you to, and order what we tell you to, or you’ll have to pay a financial penalty!”

Well, if the sample comments from X denizens, above, are any indication, Fast Food fans are nowhere as stupid, or sheep-like as Kirk Tanner and the Wendy’s brain trust imagine.

A surge of resentment

Perhaps most significantly, I sense a growing surge of resentment among Fast Food fans against the restos. It started with price increases and product downsizing. And deceptive, misleading advertising. Now, comes this unabashed insult to fan’s intelligence. At its most nefarious, the surge pricing plan is AI at its worst. And the objective appears to be to turn customers into money-spending zombies.

Some fans might now paint Wendy’s eponymous logo girl (see photo, top of page) with fangs…

~ Maggie J.