Adam Moore once drove 500 miles just to eat a burrito at a Chipotle hed never been to.
Alan Klein is working on a smartphone app to help fellow enthusiasts track down the transient McRib sandwich.
And Ben Skelton made an unusual choice for best man in his upcoming wedding: the Chick-fil-A cow.
Ive already told my best man that hes going to be my second-string best man, said Skelton, a 28-year-old chaplains assistant in the Air National Guard. I just havent told him that he got beat out by a cow.
Call it fanaticism or simply dedication, but these are the type of ultra-enthusiastic fans that every restaurant craves. Restaurant groupies have always been around, but theyre more valuable at a time when the economy is forcing consumers to choose carefully when they eat out, and a few online posts can inform the opinions of thousands. While there are no known statistics on these fanatics or even agreement on who qualifies as one, restaurant chains realize that influencing a few hyper-excited fans with free food and T-shirts can sometimes be more effective and much cheaper than a big advertising campaign.
You really cant buy publicity like that, said Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., referring affectionately to lunatic customers who do things like dress up as burritos to score free meals at the Colorado-based chain. He adds that the company tries to cultivate loyalty and, in extreme cases, even evangelism.
Fast food has indeed become the gospel for many. About 23 percent of Americans eat fast food at least 20 times a month, according to Jeff Davis at Sandelman & Associates, and another 20 percent indulge 12 to 19 times a month. But few restaurants inspire cult-like dedication. Those that do usually offer only one or two main products, or theyre able to create an aura of scarcity.
Thats why the ubiquitous McDonalds usually sells its pork sandwich, the McRib, in only a few markets at a time. Last year, when McDonalds briefly made the McRib available at all U.S. locations, it said that the obscure availability, as well as the barbecue sauce, led customers to perform extraordinary feats for a taste of the sandwich. McDonalds Corp. said the McRib helped fuel November sales, but declined to give details.
Perhaps no one knows that better than Alan Klein, a 29-year-old meteorologist in the Minneapolis area. Hed never go out of his way for a Big Mac, which are hawked at every McDonalds. But he loves the McRib because its hard to get. He even created a website, the McRib Locator, so fellow fans could report sightings.
Thats the whole lure of it, said Klein, whose enthusiasm for the pork sandwich started when he was a child, growing up in a hog-raising family. If its around, you never know when its coming back.
His website is a labor