Unless you’re a chain restaurant with a big marketing budget, odds are you’re not going to be doing too much in the way of television advertising these days. Commercials for non-chain restaurants, for one reason or another, always come across as dated and a bit tacky, because — honestly — how many ways can you say, "Come eat at my restaurant, it looks nice and the steak is good!"? From red sauce joints all the way up to high-end steakhouses, modern restaurant commercials tend to be a staid, low-res affair, with upbeat jazz, a voice-over, maybe some smiling patrons, close-ups of the food, and a snappy motto.
But once upon a time — in the 1980s, to be exact — restaurant commercials were an art form. Back in those halcyon, pre-Internet days, when airtime was cheap and people actually tuned into public access channels, the airwaves were flooded with restaurants strutting their stuff, trying to attract as many customers as possible in any way possible. And in the flashy 1980s, nothing succeeded quite like a big, flashy commercial (or a big, flashy anything, for that matter).
While independent restaurants are certainly guilty of going a bit over the top (for example, a commercial for Brooklyn’s Roll-N-Roaster is so outrageous that it’s entered into the New York pop culture lexicon and is still airing more than 30 years later), chains weren’t exempt from getting in on the ridiculousness either. There’s one from Bob’s Big Boy that hits all the essential notes of the '80s: close-ups of questionably appealing-looking food, children smiling perhaps a bit too broadly, and a vaguely creepy mascot. But one from A&W takes things in a slightly more unintentionally menacing direction, with a giant bear conducting an invisible band, someone tearing a whole head of lettuce in half, and nonexistent adjectives like "LOTSY," "NUMMY," and "TREATY" flashing across the screen, all against a black background. The bear makes a brief reappearance at the end of the commercial, playing a tuba.
It's safe to say a lot of weird and awkward things happened during the 1980s, these commercials included.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.