If you’re looking to captivate people and get them talking, resurrection is one of the oldest plays in the (literal) book. Just ask Jesus Christ. This year is seeing comebacks from Nicholas Cage, Downtown Abbey, low-rise jeans, and authoritarian control over women’s bodies. And fast food chains are capitalizing on the trend with resurrections of their own.
Doja Cat famously rapped the Mexican Pizza back into existence at Taco Bell (coming back May 19). McDonald’s brought back its craze-inducing Szechuan Sauce in March. With the expansion of its original 1921 slider promotion, White Castle asked, “What if our meat didn’t have holes in it?” And now, in a new press release, Panera explains that it has “Frontega’d Up”—whatever that’s supposed to mean—when it chose to discontinue the alleged fan-favorite Frontega Chicken sandwich. Panera announced the sandwich’s comeback with an apology tour (in which the brand, unfortunately, doubled down on the ghastly “frontega = fuck” substitution).
As much as the optimists among us would love to see these as benevolent acts to reward a longing customer base, we cynics can also point to the smart marketing stunts these menu items represent. Doja Cat, it turns out, didn’t inspire Taco Bell executives, but instead was paid by them as part of an organic-looking rollout for the beloved Mexican Pizza’s return. Getting your hands on Szechuan Sauce this year came with the caveat of only being able to order it via the McDonald’s app. Panera publicized the alleged uproar caused by removing the chicken sandwich from its menu, with a spokesperson explaining in the press release, “We’re always listening to our guests—so when we get the kind of reaction we saw with the Toasted Frontega, we knew we had to bring it back.”
By framing the Frontega comeback as a response to overwhelming social media complaints, Panera positioned itself with a desirability that, frankly, I didn’t know existed—and now I really frontegin’ want to try that sandwich.
Fast food boomed during the pandemic, partly because of its convenience and the built-in social distance of drive-thru and delivery, but also, I suspect, because this food often signifies comfort: quick, cheap, easy access to assuaging your pain. In a world of uncertainty, marketing the new and the unknown seems daunting. While six or seven years ago we were down for insane stuffed crusts and Cheeto-dusted everything, today, broadly, we want what we know.
By bringing back past favorites—with assists from beloved celebrities like Doja Cat, Dolly Parton, and Rick and Morty—these fast food joints are leaning into our desires for comfort amidst today’s chaos. And they’re in pretty good company with Gen-Z TikTokers, Dame Maggie Smith, and even Jesus frontegin’ Christ, all down for a good resurrection story.