Twitter-stunting, Frosty-toting, spicy chicken nugget-slinging American chain Wendy’s is making its long-promised push into the U.K. The brand, which will join the likes of Five Guys, Shake Shack, Wingstop, and Taco Bell — which have all made inroads into the British market in the last half decade — has added a site on Magdalen Street in Oxford to its plans for a central restaurant in Reading, according to Big Hospitality. The Reading opening has been in the works since 2019, with the brand announcing its oddly war-like plans for the U.K. as a “beach head for expansion” in 2018.
This is not a debut: Wendy’s pulled out of the U.K. market in 2000. But in the intervening years it’s acquired something of a lucrative position in the fast food poptimism movement in American food media. Consider the Popeyes fried chicken sandwich mania of 2019, in which the New Yorker declared that the sandwich was “here to save America,” while ICE raided the poultry plants that likely made its domination possible and Wendy’s joined, it felt like, literally every other fast food brand in shouting about whose chicken sandwich slapped on Twitter.
Wendy’s spot in this is helped by the fact that its most popular products — spicy chicken nuggets that are actually spicy; a Frosty ice cream that actually holds and tastes good; and, well, a Baconator — have won critical approval. It’s also been aided and abetted by the descent of Brand Twitter into its Twilight Zone, wherein Weetabix puts beans on itself; coconut water brands imply they’re going to send urine to a customer; and Wendy’s turns some guy’s nuggets tweet into a piece of stunt marketing while directing barbs at its competitors and dropping diss tracks on the internet. It’s harnessed a cultural position that most brands would push for like Steve Buscemi in 30 Rock.
Multimillion dollar American fast food chains have the infrastructure and capital to make these kind of pushes in deeply uncertain economic times for restaurants; their relentless pursuit of capital is often made at the expense of wages and labour protections for their workers and ethical practices in their supply chains. Wendy’s has blamed income equality for sales stagnation despite its starting wages being as low as $8 an hour; it has refused to sign up to the Fair Food Program that regulates against abuse in the agricultural industry. Wendy’s workers are currently joining a strike around the Fight for $15, with federal lawmakers in the U.S. pushing for a rise in the minimum wage as part of its COVID-19 relief programme.
Wendy’s is also following another American fast food chain into its graveyard. Chick-fil-A, the fried chicken sandwich chain with a history of funding anti-LGBTQ+ organisations, had its lease cancelled by Reading’s Oracle Shopping centre just a week after opening, following sustained protest against its arrival in England. It also closed its Scotland restaurant in a Highlands hotel (??) January 2020, quietly retreating from the U.K.’s shores.
The burger-slinger is likely to last rather longer; pray for the social media managers at its competitors.