It’s part lactose performance art, part boastfulness, and mostly awkward. Walk into any one of Dairy Queen’s 6000-plus U.S. locations (or up to a window) and there’s a very good chance your server will hand you a Blizzard—their soft serve treat packed with chunks of candy, cookies, baked goods, or fruit—upside-down, the spoon handle facing the floor.
A ritual since the national debut of the dessert in 1985, the eccentric hand-off has been questioned, puzzled over, and was even part of a nationwide promotion in 2016: If an employee failed to adhere to the policy, customers received a coupon for a free Blizzard. (Many outposts still offer a free Blizzard if yours isn’t served upside down, but it’s up to each franchise owner to determine whether or not it’s a standard policy.)
If you’ve ever wondered why they do it, you can credit an obnoxious 14-year-old kid in St. Louis.
Like most restaurant chains, Dairy Queen has often relied on its franchisees to help shape its menu. Founded in 1940 to capitalize on the soft serve ice cream phenomenon, the brand was fortunate enough to attract the attention of St. Louis businessman Sam Temperato, who owned dozens of locations and proved to be a steady fountain of ideas. His Full Meal Deal, which packaged a burger, fries, drink, and sundae for one flat price, was a hit. So was his notion to add chili dogs to the menu’s lineup.
In the 1970s, Temperato took notice of a custard stand operated by…