I’ll Have the Rooty Toot—Oh, Nevermind. World’s Most Embarrassing Menu Items to Order | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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I’ll Have the Rooty Toot—Oh, Nevermind. World’s Most Embarrassing Menu Items to Order

In no particular order, here are my top five most embarrassing things to order (not including the IHOP dish, the clear winner)

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IHOP pancakes

Pancakes from IHOP, courtesy of Flickr user ohdearbarb

A little over 25 years ago, some marketing executives at IHOP decided that one of their menu items should be named, yes, “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘n Fruity.” It must have been a success. Not only is the fruit-topped pancake breakfast combo still on the menu, but the name is trademarked.

According to IHOP, “guests across the country have fun pronouncing the one-of-a-kind breakfast.” But is it fun, or just embarrassing? I guess that depends on your idea of fun.

Why would a company want to humiliate its customers? It’s not as if they don’t know it’s embarrassing; an old commercial for the breakfast showed customers wearing disguises to order the meal.

As someone observed on an online forum, “If you know people are embarrassed to say the stupid name of your product, then CHANGE THE NAME!!! I will NEVER order a “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘n’ Fruity” breakfast at IHOP. I refuse to live a lie like the guy in this commercial—I want to order my breakfasteses with confidence—I refuse to hide behind a fake mustache and glasses. I won’t live my life that way, and IHOP can’t make me!”

This person was clearly having a little fun—hey, maybe IHOP was right, it is fun—but I think a lot of people would agree (including me): I don’t want to look foolish while ordering my food, especially before I’ve had my coffee.

So why do companies do it? I used to be an advertising art director—in fact, I briefly worked on the IHOP account, long after the Rooty Tooty, etc. was born—and my best guess is that they are subscribing to the “anything that people remember is good for business” school of marketing. And they probably really do think it’s fun.

When I worked on the IHOP account, one of my jobs was to help brainstorm names for new menu items. My copywriter partner and I would crack ourselves up coming up with ridiculous, and often wildly inappropriate, ideas. We obviously never came up with anything as brilliant/stupid as Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘n Fruity, because none of our names were trademarked, and even I don’t remember them now.

In no particular order, here are my top five most embarrassing things to order (not including the above, the clear winner):

1. Moon Over My Hammy: Even if I wanted an 800-plus-calorie, 51-grams-of-fat, 2,500-plus-milligrams-of-sodium egg-ham-and-cheese sandwich, I would have a hard time ordering this Denny’s classic with a straight face. In fact, maybe it’s actually nutritionists behind these goofy names, hoping they will be a deterrent.

2. Fudgie the Whale: In the 1970s, Carvel’s gave birth to a whale-shaped cake, and named it Fudgie. If Fudgie didn’t have ice cream for brains, he (for some reason, I assume it’s male) might feel bad that he has been repeatedly used as comedic fodder. Then again, he might think it was really cool. But not as cool as his friend Cookie Puss, who had a Beastie Boys song (with lyrics not as appropriate for children as the cake is) named after him.

3. Joey Bag of Donuts: The quasi-Southwest/Mexican food chain Moe’s is a double offender. They embarrass both their customers and employees, who are required to say, “Welcome to Moooooe’s” whenever someone walks in the door. The menu items are all named for pop culture references. Putting aside the fact that this menu item is a burrito that (thankfully) contains no donuts, I find this kind of forced fun tiresome. I guess I just don’t know how to have a good time.

4. Sex on the Beach, Screaming Orgasm, et al.: There was a time, thankfully passed (I think—though maybe I just go to a different class of bar now), when it seemed every cocktail had to be given a sleazy name. Most of these were for sweet “girly” drinks, and I can only imagine the rationale behind them was that ordering one (or offering to buy one) made a good pick-up line. Um, sure, you can buy me a drink—I’ll have a My Eyes Are Up Here, Buddy-tini, please.

5. Anything hard to pronounce: Despite four years of French class, there are certain words my mouth just can’t seem to form so that I will be understood by a waiter. The wine viognier, for instance. Or rooibos tea. Then again, depending where you are, sometimes the only way to be understood is by mispronouncing something. In a post I wrote last year about hard-to-pronounce foods, a commenter wrote that she had a hard time ordering Sprite in Chile until she learned to pronounce it with a Spanish accent.

What are some other examples of embarrassing things to order?

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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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