Wendy’s Immediately Promises No Burger ‘Surge Pricing’ After Online Backlash

Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Wendy’s has spoken to its manager after suggestions that it plans to introduce “surge pricing” to its menu received a decidedly frosty response this week, with the company scrambling to clarify that it has no intention of making itself the Uber of fast-food chains.

After it was reported that CEO Kirk Tanner told investors on a Feb. 15 call that “beginning as early as 2025, we will begin testing more enhanced features like dynamic pricing,” the juicy morsel went viral, catching heat from all corners of the internet.

Social media users clowned on the experiment, joking about playing the fast-food stock market and hoarding dozens of burgers in their fridges. Politicians and comedians alike chimed in, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) denouncing it as “price gouging plain and simple” even as Daily Show correspondent Ronny Chieng snorted salt packets to prepare for Baconator arbitrage. Burger King even announced a promotion for free Whoppers in response, crowing that “the only thing surging at BK is our flame!”

Wendy’s sought to tamp down on the burgeoning public relations nightmare on Tuesday, saying in a statement that reports that its never-frozen beef would cost more during a lunch rush had been greatly exaggerated.

“We have no plans to do that and would not raise prices when our customers are visiting us most,” the company said. “Any features we may test in the future would be designed to benefit our customers and restaurant crew members.”

A spokesperson pointed out to the New York Post that neither Tanner nor Wendy’s had ever used the phrase “surge pricing.” Instead, the company said in its statement, “some media reports” (including a tweet from the Post, which had been viewed more than 34 million times as of Wednesday) had seized on and spread the misinterpretation.

Wendy’s said the confusion had come from Tanner’s announcement on the analyst call that the chain plans to start testing more flexible “AI-enabled” digital menu boards, which could, for instance, offer discounts and value deals during off-peak hours, similar to a happy hour special.

The company did not immediately release further details about its dynamic pricing proposal or what a potential rollout would look like.

The chain, which has been struggling through “a bit of a slump” of late, as The Wall Street Journal characterized it, has been playing around with artificial intelligence in recent months. It began testing an AI chatbot to take drive-thru orders last year, with Tanner saying on the call this month that Wendy’s FreshAI has continued to improve “in speed and accuracy.”

But considering that, as the company said in a news release touting FreshAI’s introduction, “there are more than 200 billion ways to order a Dave’s Double,” it may be a while yet before the company known for its old-fashioned hamburgers steps fully into the future.

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