The viral hype is on menus, not memes.

Every day it seems that there is a new viral sensation sweeping your social media feed. No, not the latest OK Go video, DJ Khaled snap or Kardashian whatever they do. Think food. First it was the Pinterest-ready cupcakes rendered in beautiful pastels. The next big thing was macarons. Then the cronut became a standout solo hit. Giant pizza slices. Brisket burrito. It feels like these new items hit the internet daily. Because they pretty much do.

Each new item attracts visitors to the restaurant, along with Likes, shares and clicks. And most of these items are the creations of independent restaurants. But major brands don’t fire off crave-worthy novelties at the same pace. Sure KFC had the Double Down, and now sister brand Taco Bell has the Naked Chicken Chalupa (look familiar?). But by-and-large, these items are few and far between.

They usually play like novelties invented just for the press release. Gimmicks like the Panera Bread “secret menu” attempt, designed to ride the success pioneered authentically by some brands but ultimately falling short. Outback Steakhouse’s 3 Point Bloomin’ Onion (topped with cheese fries and steak) was clearly built to get media attention. It failed to gain visitors because it just doesn’t look that good to eat.

Many viral hits across media are remixes. Music, movies, even viral videos about remixes.

For the restaurants that create the Sushi donut, initial traffic crashes the place. Traffic is the goal of major brands as well. But independents, strapped for resources, fail to capitalize by moving those there to try the viral hit onto more mainstream menu items. Major QSR, Fast Casual and Casual Dining brands have the R+D departments but somehow fail to innovate.

So, what’s different?

The Double Down success was as much a product of its curiosity inducing form as it was the media buy that gave it visibility. It was never intended to be a mainstay on the menu at KFC. But it also failed to create serious levels of demand, unlike the buffalo chicken chimichanga. These are the items that younger guests seek because they’re not only looking for unique food experiences, but they’re looking for things to share on social media.

Taco Bell is well positioned to launch a string of viral food hits. They have the food oddity gene in their DNA by virtue of the co-opted nature of their Amexican cuisine and history of flavor combinations like the Doritos Locos tacos. Taco Bell also has the top viral audience coming in daily. And now for Waffle Tacos. So why aren’t sales continuing to rise?

The food that goes viral have something else in common. Like Taco Bell, they are remixes of popular items. Sushi and Donuts for example. Unlike Taco Bell, they tend to cross culinary lines that brands locked into a corporate flavor profile have trouble finding. The cronut, maybe the item that started the viral food trend, seems simple. But French pastry techniques and good old deep fried dough had never been cross pollinated, despite sitting next to each other on New York City bakery shelves for decades.

Many viral hits across media are remixes. Music, movies, even viral videos about remixes. Fragmentation has rendered mass attention harder than ever to earn. Artists and media seek to leverage known properties, or very, very familiar ideas to draw a bigger initial audience. The easier it is to explain, the bigger the audience opportunity.

In light of the change in culture, brands need to find their own Sushi Donut that will attract initial attention, drive trial and allow for menu exploration down the road. Mixing favorite flavors is one recipe for viral success. Creativity doesn’t have to be original to be successful.

Keep guests in your vision statement

Read the vision statement of some of the top dining brands and you’ll notice something quite odd. It’s focused solely on the success of the brand, and not at all on the people the brand exists to serve.

For example, Chili’s vision statement is “Chili’s love by 2020.” What on earth does that mean? To guests, absolutely nothing. Applebee’s is a list of corporate values. More of an appeal for shareholders than guests. Chipotle? “Change the way people think about and eat fast food.” It involves guests, but isn’t clearly about improving things for them. Panera Bread says “A loaf of bread under every arm.” Technically guests have arms, so we’re getting warmer.

The ideal vision statement is about the company and the specific thing it will do for customers to reach its big goal. Or at least a reference to what customers get from the brand that will help the brand get there. When the vision statement is solely inwardly focused, it’s telling. The Chili’s vision reads like the experience many guests have when they go to Chili’s; more about the brand moving customers than the guest’s visit. How do they hope to achieve Chili’s Love? Also, what?

If you are in the restaurant business, you exist to serve people.

McDonald’s vision is a very long and winding paragraph that includes references to the experience, their number one product and their guests. It feels very much like what you might believe McDonald’s is striving to achieve. Starbucks leaves out guests but puts a heavy focus on top-tier quality, integrity and corporate growth.

If you are in the restaurant business, you exist to serve people. If taking care of people or trying to give people a good time is not of interest to you, do something else. This is why it’s critical that any vision be centered around the guest. What will you provide your guest to grow your brand? That may sound difficult to define, but that’s the key. It’s the difference between independent restaurants and chains.

The sole proprietor or chef-led restaurant is still focused on guests. On delighting them. On pleasing them. On earning their next visit. Chains tend to lose this focus as they grow and expand into new markets. Corporations add words like integrity and supply chain to their visions to appeal to shareholders. Independent restaurants work for every visit and successful locations never lose site of the guests. To be fair, independent restaurants do not have a vision statement.

That’s part of the problem for large or growing brands. The vision statement is meant to direct the entire company towards a goal. A big goal. It’s interesting that many (most?) audacious futures don’t have customers. Chili’s Love by 2020. The vision statement should definitely include customers if only to identify the party that will fund this future state. But that’s a copout. A focus on the ‘love’ of the brand is not a destination that can ever be reached. It’s incredibly heady and vague. NPS and sentiment data are valuable tools, but neither is an effective way to measure the vision of the brand.

This post was inspired by and borrows from this fun and inappropriate episode of The Brand Hole podcast.