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The Shittenfreude of Applebee’s Date Night

Memberships Gone Wild
January 24, 2024

It’s never been a better time to be a consumer, and the middle class is winning. 

Fabletics-clad soccer moms high on Panera Charged Lemonades are beating down the digital doors for their next money-saving membership.

But is the gastrointestinal distress that comes along with it worth the effort? 

Pictured: If the “Date Night Pass” were more literal in tone. / via Applebee’s

Earlier this week, Applebee’s stunned the world by announcing, and subsequently selling out of its $200-all-you-can-barf “date night pass” membership. For the low price of $200 (and a resulting statin prescription), you can treat your soon-to-be-ex to fifty-two consecutive date nights from hell.

“Who’s this for?” we wondered aloud on a forthcoming episode of the Future Commerce podcast. Aside from a scant few customers who were able to purchase before it sold out in under a minute, it primarily serves the brand by cutting through the noise; obtaining an obscene amount of earned media for a comparatively small, fixed amount of gift cards.

The current mimetic environment is perfect for this offering at this moment in time. As millennials get older, have children, experience inflation, and realize that the suburbs (and their many chain restaurants) aren’t all that bad, the “ironic celebration” of the Olive Garden and Cheesecake Factory has given way to a movement of unironic enjoyment of these third spaces. Applebee’s marketing has been working overtime, participating in other viral memes like launching their own Youtube Shorts campaign around “AYCE (All You Can Eat) Education, a Midjourney image imagining Applebee’s in the virtual Gag City world on Roblox, and a disturbing amount of Taylor.

Applebee’s isn’t the first to offer such a stunt. Frontier Airlines has offered an ‘all you can fly’ subscription pass for years. Panera created their ‘Unlimited Sip’ program in a dual-fisted move—simultaneously delivering unlimited sips while removing soda fountains from their front-of-house, obligating introverted customers to overcome their social anxiety to get their caffeine fix.

Consumers expect to feel like they “win” in the consumer-brand relationship. Even if you weren’t so unlucky as to get a Date Night Pass, its mere existence is satisfying. This schadenfreude — shittenfreude? — is the feeling of satisfaction at someone else’s misfortune. In this case, a ubiquitous chain restaurant, which undoubtedly loses money on the $200 membership. Haha take that, Crapplebee’s! 

This satisfaction gives normal everyday consumers hope that they, too, will have the upper hand in the brand relationship one day. They take comfort in the fact that, somewhere out there, someone is enjoying no more than thirty US-dollars-worth of non-alcoholic fountain beverages and reheated frozen boneless buffalo bites right now; and they’ll do so every week for the next year. They’re ”Eatin’ Good in the Neighboorhood”. Good in this context is highly subjective.

Maybe the real diarhhea was the memberships we bought along the way.

— Phillip

P.S. Do you lament the Internet? Our newest essay explores the cultural nostalgia experienced by a Zillennial reflecting on the '80s and 2010s; and how the Internet's evolution has reshaped our world and the brands it offers. By Elliot Roazen for Future Commerce. Read Insiders #159: A Lament for the Internet.

Image credit: NPR

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Touch: Kim Kardashian's Skims site crashes Shopify after a successful beauty products launch.

The Palate: Applebee's offers Date Night Pass for 52 dates.

Image credit: FWB

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