The 10 Biggest Fast Food News Stories Of 2021

From major sandwich innovations to the worker shortage, a lot happened in fast food this year.

Here at The Takeout, we've always got our finger on the pulse of the fast food industry—and not just so we can taste every new sandwich the moment it hits the menu. The year 2021 was significant for the entire fast food landscape: worker shortages, menu reductions, drive-thru innovations, and robotic kitchen assistants all became part of our new normal. It's tough to say what the year 2022 might bring, though we have some guesses (and some hopes).

What follows is a list of our top 10 most popular fast food news stories of 2021. These were the stories our readers liked and shared the most, and they offer an interesting look back at a very unique year. Who knew we'd all be keeping such close tabs on Burger King?

10. Burger King France gives out thousands of sacks of potatoes

Back in January, Burger King France purchased 200 tons of potatoes and gave away a free two-pound bag of potatoes to each and every drive-thru customer until those taters were gone. Why? Because the pandemic-related restaurant closures across France were making things hard for farmers and suppliers, who were left with (literal) tons of unsold potatoes. Burger King France figured, why not share the wealth? On each bag, the fast food chain printed messages encouraging customers to buy more potatoes, adding, "For the love of spud, let's make this new year a good one." Read the full story here.

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9. Burger King rebrands with hip new logo

To kickstart the year with some renewed energy around its brand, Burger King changed its logo in January. The fast food chain's new design aesthetic is retro yet modern, nostalgic yet innovative, sophisticated but whimsical. A press release explained that this classic look and feel is meant to "capture the unique characteristics of the Burger King brand: Mouthwatering, Big & Bold, Playfully Irreverent and Proudly True." That's a bit of word salad, but it was the chain's first rebrand in 20 years, and we think they kind of nailed it. Read the full story here.

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8. Chris Hemsworth orders so, so much KFC while prepping to play Hulk Hogan

Did you hear? Netflix has a new Hulk Hogan biopic in the works, and Chris Hemsworth is portraying the famed professional wrestler. In order to bulk up even more than his usual Thor self, Hemsworth went to KFC this summer to load up on $72 worth of fried chicken. The order—15 original chicken pieces, a regular size combo, and four regular popcorn chicken meals—was all part of Hemsworth's regimen designed to build and maintain muscle mass, but now that's all we'll think of if we ever watch that Hogan biopic. Read the full story here.

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7. Old Country Buffet dies a probable death

October 2021 dawned with sobering news: Old Country Buffet was acquired by a new company, BBQ Holdings, which expressed no intention of reviving the struggling chain. In a statement, a spokesperson for the parent company described the languishing Old Country Buffet chain as "IP that came alongside the transaction," which is a very corporate way of saying, "Old Country who?" It's a sad year for fans of all-you-can-eat Americana. Read the full story here.

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6. Subway franchisees fight back against cheese melts

Wherever Subway can be found, corporate intrigues and worker woes are never far behind. This year, Subway pushed franchises to start selling premium sandwiches, Fresh Melts, to boost profits. But to this mandate, franchise owners essentially said "hell no." In a letter to Subway's corporate headquarters, franchisees explained that Fresh Melts put employees in danger: the sandwiches come in bags that have to be moved into and out of blazing-hot toasters by hand, leaving everyone at increased risk of burns. In response to the letter, though, Subway only grew more defensive. Read the full story here.

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5. The ongoing saga of McDonald’s all-day breakfast

Where do we even begin with McDonald's all-day breakfast? First the company took it away as part of COVID-related menu "streamlining." Then McDonald's teased the return of all-day breakfast, only to supplant McGriddles, biscuits, and McMuffins with all-day coffee and a new line of pastries. The pastry lineup has since added a doughnut to the mix, but that offers little consolation to those who miss their afternoon savory breakfast sandwiches. And we've even heard of some franchises going rogue and serving all-day breakfast past the morning in spite of McDonald's edicts. It's an ongoing saga, to say the least, and we aim to cover it from every angle. Read the full story here.

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4. Exhausted Domino’s workers go viral on social media

In February 2021, storms and power outages in Texas led many people to turn to pizza delivery as their means of sustenance. This, combined with an ongoing worker shortage and supply chain issues, meant that employees at one Domino's location in San Antonio were so overwhelmed, they just sat down on the floor after a grueling shift, exhausted. A photo with a caption detailing their shift went viral on social media, because the image and the description so perfectly encapsulated the struggle felt across Texas—and, in a sense, the entire food service industry. "These are the essential workers that need recognition," the caption read in part. "Every pizza place was closed but dominos stayed open to help those in need." Read the full story here.

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3. Rest In Peace, Popeyes Cajun Rice

This year The Takeout was the first to report on the news that Popeyes removed Cajun Rice and Green Beans from its permanent menu. Popeyes confirmed to The Takeout that the decision was one made only "after thoughtful consideration" and emphasized that there are still many other delicious sides on the menu. The Cajun Rice in particular had many diehard fans, and this news leaves many folks hoping for its grand return in the form of a limited-time offering, at the very least. Read the full story here.

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2. Red Lobster finds the rarest lobster of them all

Have you ever heard of the ultra-rare calico lobster? Probably not, since the chances of finding one are about 1 in 30 million. But in Virginia this past April, an unsuspecting Red Lobster location discovered a gorgeous calico, whom the staff named "Freckles," among its usual stock. The lobster was not eaten, but rather donated to the Virginia Living Museum to be placed on display for all to enjoy. That's fine by us; we only go to Red Lobster for the Cheddar Bay Biscuits, anyway. Read the full story here.

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1. Burger King accused of underhanded upselling

Our third, final, and most widely read Burger King story this year involves the crusade of one Houston man, Glen Tharp, who believes Burger King is misleading customers in order to charge more on combo meals. Tharp spoke with local news source Click 2 Houston and explained that the drive-thru employees at his local Burger King only ask customers whether they want the medium or large combo, rather than presenting the small combo as an option. "I think it's dishonest," Tharp says of this practice. Knowing that this goes on, it's hard not to suspect that we're getting upsold on various small charges all day long. Do you, like Tharp, presume foul play? Read the full story here.

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