Then and Now: Restaurant Commercials


Commercials show shifting cultural trends that demand a product to be a certain way. Who knows how long our current obsession with farm fresh, artisan food will last? Will we one day enjoy or even demand that all our food be processed? It might sound odd to us now, but if a chef told a mom in the 90’s that he made her kid’s burger with farm fresh meat, the kid would probably just give him a funny look and the mom wouldn’t really care. Currently, however, children are learning in schools right where their food originates, which means that now even kids recognize when something is ‘healthy’ or farm grown or not. This blog highlights commercials from the 70's to the present day in order to illustrate the themes in each to show that the burden of proof has shifted from the consumer’s enjoyment of food and value priced options to the restaurant’s need to prove why consumers should visit their restaurant.

70’s to Early 2000’s

From the 70’s to somewhere in the early 2000’s, commercials were essentially the same: they had lots of people smiling and were fun oriented. Some had the inexpensive price included in the commercial, but most of these include some type of reaction to the food, whether from family, friends or co-workers. The idea was that eating out was fun and the food tasted good.

McDonald’s: This one is all about consumer’s enjoyment of McDonald’s burgers.

Taco Bell: While the food is showcased in the beginning, the latter half of the commercial is clearly focused on consumer reactions to that food and the enjoyment of eating out.

AppleBee’s: Even in 2001 the focus was on having a good time with friends or family, down to Applebee's famous slogan ‘Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood.’

Late 90's to 2000’s

When the early and mid 2000’s moved toward frugality, consumers saw more inexpensive items, usually offered on a 'value menu' of some sort. Several items stood out as ‘fresher’ menu options as compared with others, but for the most part the trend was aimed at being cheap. No longer was the main focus built on the enjoyment of eating out; at this point, enjoying fast food is somewhat of a given because it is so popular. Some commercials during this time do overlap with themes present in older ones. However, the main thrust of these commercials is the value pricing.

McDonald’s: This commercial shows people saving money any way they can. One way they save money is to buy from the ‘Dollar Menu.’

Taco Bell: A big burrito is advertised with the cheap price being mentioned three times within 30 seconds.

Applebee’s: Just like the last Applebee's commercial, the focus is on people having a good time, but note the ‘Only $8.99’ included at the end.


For the past several years and now currently, major trends changed from value menu items to fresh foods and appearances from chefs or other types of food aficionados (Thanks to Nation’s Restaurant News for this insight). Much overlap from past commercials exist, but the definitive difference now is that consumers want their food locally bought, traceable, and made by a professional. The farm is in place of targeted types of people enjoying food and the quality of food has replaced value menus. This is because the burden of proof has shifted from a consumer’s enjoyment of food to the restaurant’s need to prove to their customer that their professional chefs serve farm fresh food.

McDonald’s: This is one of a new series of commercials highlighting agriculture and the farmers responsible for McDonald’s vegetables.

Taco Bell: The quality of Taco Bell’s ground beef is the focus of this video. There are multiple endorsements from many of their employees telling consumers that the beef is ‘100% premium’ and ‘quality guaranteed.’

Applebee’s: Words like ‘Culinary,’ ‘Healthy,’ and ‘Fresh produce ingredients’ are new to the restaurant commercial scene.


1. Up until the late 90’s and early 2000’s, commercials centered on consumers enjoying food. What mattered was not where the food came from, but how fun it was to eat. It didn't even need to taste great, it just needed to be fun.

2. 2000’s to 2010 or so pushed great deals, value menus and even fresher foods. More consumers wanted better prices and fresh ingredients. Less about the novelty of eating out, more about the best prices.

3. Present commercials focus on where the fresh food comes from (which becomes even 'fresher' now that a farm is in the background), and they switch from the enjoyment of going out to eat to the process of the food from farm to plate. The burden of proof has clearly shifted from a consumer’s enjoyment of food to the restaurant’s need to prove to their customer that their chefs prepare farm fresh food.


While not all restaurant brands are heading this direction, a good amount of them are. Several still focus on promoting cheap menu options; others are trying to do value menu offerings with an ‘artisan’ stamp of approval. What this means for restaurants is that they are now more responsible than ever to prove the excellence of their product to the consumer.

What do you think? Do restaurants need to prove to their customers that their food is 'farm fresh'? Or is this more of a fad that won't last much longer? Comment below to let us know your thoughts.

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I imagine taco bell's "real beef" advertisement (posted on Youtube in March of 2011) is directly related to them being sued for meat (in Jan 2011) that was only 35% beef...  But regardless, I agree with you in saying that the shift as a whole for restaurant commercial is going to the more "local" side of things.  Especially since, right now, Taco Bell's main advertisement has to do with the "Gourmet and tasty" (fresh ingredients) tacos they had some celebrity chef (a professional) make.  Interesting.  Good thoughts.