On 7 October 2017, McDonald's Rick and Morty-themed "Szechuan Sauce" promotion led to fan disappointment, a social media controversy, and the chain's subsequent announcement they would bring the product back after the botched release.
McDonald's teased the fleeting return of a 1990s Mulan-themed dipping item, Szechuan Sauce, after fan interest was piqued due to its mention on the animated series Rick and Morty in April 2017. In the episode "The Rickshank Rickdemption," the Rick character is able to visit a memory from 1998 in which he tries to stockpile as much of the sauce as he can:
"Guys, we did it. After returning with the Szechuan Sauce from the always-1998 dimension, C-1998M, we did some science and now we have a bit more sauce! Technology is amazing. But delivering for our customers is even better," said McDonald's Chef Michael Haracz. "I can't wait for fans to taste the savory, sweet flavor of Szechuan Sauce paired with our new Buttermilk Crispy Tenders. It's a great moment for McDonald's and our fans that I'm definitely not taking for granite."
Customers will have the chance to receive their favorite limited-edition sauce poster, including a Szechuan Sauce poster, with the purchase of Buttermilk Crispy Tenders at participating McDonald's restaurants on Saturday, October 7, beginning at 2 p.m. local time while supplies last. Select restaurants will also have limited quantities of Szechuan Sauce dipping packets while supplies last. Limited-edition stickers of the poster designs will also be available when the collectible posters and sauces run out.
What the brand failed to mention, however, was that quantities of the sauce were also limited, reportedly to around 20 units per store. On Twitter, images and video of long lines outside McDonald's locations were interspersed with angry tweets, and police responded to some locations where fans gathered en masse. The brand's account attempted to mollify frustrated users with jokes about its availability "in this dimension":
We wish everyone could get Szechuan Sauce, unfortunately, there was only a limited amount in this dimension.
— McDonald's (@McDonalds) October 7, 2017
After the massive publicity over #SzechuanGate, the brand issued a statement on 8 October 2017:
To our customers and Szechuan Sauce lovers,
Yesterday, we were truly humbled by the amazing curiosity, passion and energy this community showed to welcome back Szechuan Sauce—even if just for one day. Thank you, a million times over.
Between the costumes, the memes and the cross-state travel, you, the fans, showed us what you got. And our super-limited batch, though well-intentioned, clearly wasn’t near enough to meet that demand.
We agree. So, we’re gonna make this right. In the last 24 hours, we've worked to open any portal necessary. And it worked.
Szechuan Sauce is coming back once again this winter. And instead of being one-day-only and limited to select restaurants, we’re bringing more—a lot more—so that any fan who’s willing to do whatever it takes for Szechuan Sauce will only have to ask for it at a nearby McDonald’s.
We want to make this right. You're some of the best fans in this, or any, dimension ... and we plan to deliver on that promise as soon as possible. Stay tuned.
Some users were not pleased, calling the turn of events a public relations stunt:
I’m just mad they thought this was a good business move. See my tweet and its replies: https://t.co/4Ulpn5UYTp
— Derpy’s Muffin Shop (@DerpyMuffinShop) October 9, 2017
McDonald's did not provide a specific date for the Szechuan Sauce product launch.