McDonald's McRib sandwich is officially back. Some people think the McRib is a 70-ingredient abomination, while others can't get enough of the barbecue pork sandwich. Whether you love it or hate it, the divisive dish always generates buzz whenever it comes back to menus after a periodic hiatus. According to CNN, the novelty surrounding the McRib isn't just a plus that comes with its seasonal status—it's the driving force behind its appeal.
McDonald's has built an empire around serving comforting, familiar foods that are consistent across thousands of locations. That business model doesn't apply to the McRib. Customers can't just walk into their local McDonald's restaurant any time of year and expect to find one: They have to follow the news and/or use online McRib trackers to keep tabs on the elusive sandwich.
Though the McRib has a devoted fan base, it will likely never secure a permanent spot on the McDonald's menu. That's because fast food companies know that having at least one seasonal item is good for business. When diners know that something is only around for a limited window, they're more motivated to make time to buy it than they would be if it was always there waiting for them. Temporary dishes can also add variety to a menu that's relied on the same staples for decades.
It took a long time for the McRib to grow into a cult sensation. When it first appeared in McDonald's stores in 1981, sales were underwhelming, and it was taken off menus in 1985. When it resurfaced in 1994, it had nostalgia and novelty on its side, and people were more willing to give the rib-shaped mystery meat a chance. By 2005, it was popular enough to become a recurring menu item.
The sandwich will return to select U.S. McDonald's restaurants nationwide on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, ringing in the start of McRib season. But as fans know too well, the item won't be around for long, so pop an antacid tablet and pick one up while you still can.