Please Explain: Wendy’s

It might not be something many of us are proud to claim, but no other country has the myriad of fast-food offerings that the United States has. With so much choice, I’ve never understood how Wendy’s continues to thrive in the marketplace.

I’m not a huge fan of McDonalds, but I understand its charm, especially to little children. Plus their double cheeseburger and fries stack up well against the competition.

Burger King has gone downhill a bit on the quality front over the past decade, but the charbroiling niche is a good one. Also, BK’s new Whopper Jr. ad-campaign is really funny. “Don’t sell yourself for a buck, son”, I wish I never had been broiled”, and “get your head out of your bun” are ironic comedy 30-second gems.

Carl’s Jr/Hardees Angus beef makes for some of the best tasting burgers on the fast-food scene. Also, their male-driven ads have done an excellent job of featuring their products.

Dairy Queen has pushed their Angus burgers as well. They have a very diverse menu, with ice cream their obvious profit focus.

Sonic is a strange company in that it’s not in all the country, but in enough of it that they need to do some national advertising. Their ads are also really well done. Sonic has found their unique place in the crowded field, as a drive-in, more eclectic version of Dairy Queen.

A&W has had somewhat of resurgence over the past 5 years, after being bought by Yum! Brands and then combined with some of the company’s other fast-food restaurants in multi-branded stores. (Long John Silver’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell also are part of Yum! Brands.) A&W has the unique advantage of having the best beverage served at any fast-food joint.

White Castle (or) Krystal, depending on what part of the country you live in has the drunk burger down to a science. While I’m not sure why any sober person eats one, I’m not above the slider’s charm after a few pitchers of brew.

Rally’s/Checkers are strictly drive-through restaurants, but the lack of overhead keeps their costs down and I would argue they are the best value in the burger market.

Jack in the Box is another fast-food joint that caters to drunks and stoners, as they stay open late. They also offer 2 tacos for a buck, which gives them some diversity that no other burger joint can claim. It has always been weird to me that they are mainly located on the West Coast, but also have a strong presence in St. Louis and Nashville. Doesn’t seem like a good marketing plan, as getting supply trucks to these areas would seem to pose certain logistical problems. Still, their ultimate cheeseburgers keep them worth checking out.

Whataburger is the worst fast-food burger joint I’ve ever eaten. A poor man’s Burger King, I just don’t understand why anyone eats there. Why I didn’t choose Whataburger as the Please Explain candidate is that they are a regional chain, not one of the top fast-food restaurants in the US like Wendys.

Steak and Shake is a bit more upscale in the way they sell themselves, but the quality of their products is often worth the extra cost.

Culvers is Wisconsin-based and I think the best candidate for growth in the burger field. Their specialty is called a butterburger, which is one of the best sandwiches I’ve eaten. They are a bit more upscale in their approach, but it fits with the quality and wider menu they have. Frozen custard is their other big seller.

Backyard Burger was the first place I tried that used Angus beef and I can see why so many others in the marketplace joined them in going with this type of meat. Hardees co-opting the Angus beef has made Backyard less unique and when Yum Brands decided to go with A&W over them in the combo restaurants they franchised, I wonder how long they can continue to exist in such a cut-throat field.

In-N-Out Burger is mainly located in the SoCal area and it’s hard to say there is a better burger you can find. The only negative about In-N-Out Burger is since they are made fresh, they take longer to get. Combine slow cook times with how busy they get and your wait pushes the fast-food notion. (I waited 20 minutes once at the location by Hollywood High.) They were the first burger chain to offer the Atkins designed lettuce wrapped burger, which is called a Protein Burger at In-N-Out.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I eat a lot of hamburgers. I’m on the road constantly with my job and since I generally follow a high protein diet approach, this puts me at a burger joint 3-4 times a week. I thought Fast Food Nation was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I loved Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” film. I know that I would be a better citizen if I was more moderate in my cheeseburger intake, but there is no other food that manages to taste good, fill me up, and do it at a reasonable price like ground cow.

My credibility is legit on this subject, so I think I have the right to offer up an opinion on the burger field. With so many choices, I just don’t understand why people choose to get a Wendy’s burger. I would only rate Whataburger lower on the taste scale. I also think there is no bigger fraud in advertising than what Wendys shows on TV and what you end up getting after ordering. Where are these juicy beef patty squares they demonstrate in their ads?

I realize that Wendy’s has a pretty diverse menu, with chili, baked potatoes, and salads being a big seller for them. While these offerings are better than their burgers, I know it’s not enough to keep them open. Actually, the salads at McDonalds and especially Arbys are superior to what you get at Wendy’s. Add to this that the biggest rip-off I’ve had at any fast-food restaurant over the past few years is the new Frescata sandwich Wendy’s has touted. Save your money and go to any of your local sub shops, as the Frescata pales in comparison to what you can get at Quizno’s or Subway. Oh and their fries suck as well.

Please Explain to me why Wendy’s is one of the top fast-food chains in the world, as I don’t get it. Outside of the Frosty, I don’t think Wendy’s do anything better than their competitors.

75 thoughts on “Please Explain: Wendy’s

  1. 1.  Outside of the Frosty, I don’t think they do anything better than their competitors

    That’s like saying “Outside of shooting consistently lower scores, I don’t think Tiger Woods does anything better than his competitors”

  2. 2.  I dunno. Their marketing department did hit a home run with putting Dave in the ads. I had a friend who was in some of those and said it took Dave about 400 tries to get his lines right, but he was committed.

    It might simply be the ad campaign. I also think they placed themselves in a higher tier. Wendy’s, McDonalds, and Burger King were the triumverate in northern New York when I was growing up, and we never went to Wendy’s because it was basically too expensive. But it put them in a particular place, I think, which worked.

    So, um, that’s my theory. Advertising and branding.

  3. 3.  It’s not fair to say that Wendy’s sucks because their frescata or salad sucks. That’s like claiming McDonald’s sucks because their chorizo sucks.

    Wendy’s is delicious. I like the double cheeseburger with no mayo. It has mustard on it, which I also love, and a good overall size and flavor. I like the fries because they’re squishy and a little salty. I love the frostys(ies?). Outside of that, I don’t care what is good or bad about their menu because it is irrelevant to me.

    However, I’ll concede that their fountain sodas are poor. This is an underrated aspect of ranking fast food: some fountain drinks are always great (McDonald’s) and some consistenly suck (Carl’s Jr, Wendy’s).

    Original Tommy’s in SoCal and Wendy’s are my two favorite fast-food burgers. I live in Westwood and go all the way through traffic to Culver City when I need a Wendy’s fix rather than the JBox and McDonald’s which are right next to my house (and I like McDonald’s quite a bit, a fact that scares the hell out of me).

    So, they’re one man’s humble take on trying to explain why Wendy’s is awesome.

  4. 4.  You got me on this. Every five years or so, I try Wendy’s, and it’s never good.

    As far as drivethru goes, McDonalds if I’m in a hurry, In ‘N’ Out if I’m not.

    I did used to have a policy of not doing drivethru so that I wouldn’t be emitting car emissions, but kids have made that more difficult.

  5. 6.  Not sure about the order. But for me…
    1) Taco Bell: My favorite as long as they get my order made correctly.
    2) McDonalds: Best kids toys in town.
    3) Wendy’s (because of the Frosty and fries)
    4) Arby’s: I really like Arby’s and wish there was one closer to where I live.
    5) Presto Pasta
    6) Baja Fresh
    7) Habit

    then a big drop to???

    … In and Out: The line is way too long and the burgers are nothing special at all. All hype and no taste and too expensive.

    … Jack n the box: Pretty bad food, the shakes are ok.

    … Carls Jr.: pretty average.

    … Del Taco: Yuck.

    … Quiznos: too expensive, but I like the toasted bread.

    … Subway: They weigh the meat! El Cheapos

    that’s all I can think of for now.
    vr, Xei

  6. 7.  Ravenscar- Good point about the ads being the biggest reason for the rise of Wendy’s. Quite possibly the most popular commercial in the history of advertising was the “Where’s the Beef” ads from 1984. It was such a clever line that even Walter Mondale was able to win a debate against Reagan co-opting it.
    Then the Dave ads continued the momentum, as the guy looked like someone who ate a lot of Wendy’s.
    One of the worst ideas ever was when they had a character named “Mr. Wendy”. Wow, was that a horrible idea.

    Wendy’s sucks because there burgers are so mediocre. I appreciate any reasoning on why I’m off, though. I follow a similar deal as Jon, as every couple of years I get a Wendy’s burger, just because I figure there must be something I’m missing. Still haven’t found it.

  7. 8.  Wow, Taco Bell first. Need to try a Chipotle or Qdoba, my friend.

    I suggest to anyone to try the Carl’s Jr/Hardees double cheeseburger and tell me it doesn’t have the best flavor of any fast-food burger under 3 bucks. Most of the country offers them 2 for 3 bucks.

    I rate the top 5 burger places as the following.

    Carl’s Jr/Hardees
    Culver’s (bacon butterburger specifically)
    In-N-Out Burger
    Rally’s/Checkers (Big Buford specifically)
    Jack in the Box (Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger specifically)

  8. 9.  The Frosty, and Dave Thomas. He was such a nice old man, and it’s so sad that he died.

    But seriously, I’d speculate the wide variety of menu options for if you have a group of people, although Arby’s is still better, and has two superior types of fries.

    I’m a fast food chicken kind of guy, though, so my favorite fast food place is by far Chick-Fil-A. Excellent chicken sandwiches, fresh squeezed lemonade (I’ve seen them actually squeeze the lemons there), and I understand their iced tea is really good too.

  9. 11.  I generally eschew fast food, but I have two thoughts:

    1) There is no fast food burger that can touch In-N-Out. I don’t even think it’s really fair to compare their burgers to national chains. They’re more appropriately placed in a category with local chains like Tommy’s (as a NorCal guy who went to college down south, Tommy’s is one of the few things that makes me think about hopping on I-5)

    2) I’m not a fan of the Wendy’s burger, but it’s also not their best offering. The spicy chicken sandwich is where it’s at. I went to college at UCSB, and every Sunday of my freshman year I’d wake up hungover at around 1 in the afternoon, after the dining hall’s brunch hours were over. The UCen had a Wendy’s, and every Sunday I’d eat the spicy chicken sandwich. I’d take Wendy’s over McDonald’s, Burger King, or Jack anytime (not Carl’s, though). Much of our enjoyment of food is contextual.

  10. 12.  Much of our enjoyment of food is contextual.

    I’m torn by this comment, because as much as I agree with the idea, anyone who would use such a line should probably not discuss fast food. I do wonder jmoney, how long does it take you to eschew an In-N-Out burger.

  11. 13.  Even though I don’t miss them as much as In-n-Out, I did also eat some Carl’s and Jack when I was up in the Bay Area. I’ve heard rumors of Jack in the Box out in a place called “Noo Choysee” or something, I’m told over the water in the direction of the setting sun. I’m not sure if the rumors are true, and really, it’s not worth finding out.

  12. 14.  I like Wendy’s. I like the thicker fries and their burgers seem fresher than McDonalds or Burger King.

    I actually worked at a Wendy’s when I was younger and know their cooking process is pretty normal. The beef patties come out of the freezer and are grilled. I had a friend who worked at McDonalds and he used to talk about putting their patties into “meat presses.” That just sounded kind of gross.

  13. 15.  Haven’t been to a Wendy’s in ages. Since salads have supplanted burgers in my diet, a burger is a real treat. Hence, Apple Pan, Father’s Office, at least In-N-Out.

    Now I’m hungry.

  14. 16.  As a fast-food connoisseur (i.e. partial fatass) I largely agree with your rankings. (I also agree that In ‘N Out is so superior to the other brands, it’s not really fair to include them in the discussion.) The only strong disagreement I have with you, Scott, is with your praise of Carl’s Jr.’s ad campaigns. With only a handful of exceptions, I’ve found most of their commercials stomach-turning (more than anything, it’s the omnipresent, overmixed sound of people chewing that turns me off). And this is coming from a guy who honestly likes Carl’s Jr.’s food.

    I’m crazy suggestible when it comes to television advertising. If I see pizza, for instance, I’m going to want pizza. But the Carl’s Jr.’s spots actually have the opposite effect. They make me not hungry. Which is, in and of itself, a remarkable thing.

  15. 17.  Ken Macha says, when you’re hungry for a hamburger, it’s got to be a Nation’s:

    [audio src="http://www.nationsrestaurants.com/spotlight/Nations01.mp3" /]

    Oddly enough, Nation’s Giant Hamburgers are a Bay Area-only chain. And they’re more famous for their pies.

  16. 18.  I don’t get the fascination with In-N-Out…perhaps it’s the lifelong exposure to it, but I’ve never found the burgers to be particularly special. And the French fries are beyond horrible.

    Wendy’s is nothing special, but I can attest to the dollar menu being quite decent when you’re a poor college student.

  17. 19.  Chicken, Scott – its all about the chicken.

    Arby’s has a better chicken sandwich, but its so hard to find an Arby’s.

    Burger King’s chicken sandwich is good . . . but if you eat too many of them, you might die of a heart attack at age 30.

    And McDonald’s didn’t get into the chicken game until the mid-90s. If you never had a McChicken sandwich, consider yourself lucky. Today their chicken sandwiches are good, but for the longest time, if you wanted a decent chicken sandwich, you had to go to Wendy’s. (No Chick-Fil-A’s in the northeast.)

    Please note, I’m a life-long Northeasterner, so while I’ve heard of a lot of the places on your list, I’ve never been to many of them. That might be the other reason for Wendy’s popularity. In upstate New York and New England, your fast food choices are basically McDonald’s, BK, Wendy’s, and the occasional Arby’s. BK and McD’s get very old, very quickly; Wendy’s is a welcome alternative.

    BTW – people go to Dairy Queen for something other than ice cream?! Wow.

  18. 21.  20 – There are lots of Wendy’s in Canada. Don’t know about overseas and elsewhere.

    I’ve always thought Wendy’s burgers were pretty good. I’m not sure if they’re any different here than in the U.S. It’s the same situation here as Shaun P said in #19. We don’t have most of the other chains you mentioned so Wendy’s becomes a decent alternative.

  19. 22.  When I was a kid and Wendy’s first really got going (70s), Wendy’s was “different,” and that’s why it made in-roads. The burgers were much better than BK and McD’s, and the inside of the restaurant was curious, too. It had carpeting and the tables had that old-timey ads (like Sears-Roebuck from the turn of the century, with those bikes with gigantic tires and xit like that).

    If you look at only the big three, Wendy’s appeals to adults most of all. I know a lot of parents who will not eat at the other two but can always find something to eat at Wendy’s. Plus, they have long been offering interesting things like chili (which is quite good) and baked potatoes (pseudo-healthy).

    So if you’re doing apples-to-apples, “why does this thrive in the marketplace,” then the answer is quite simple. In its class (i.e., JUST the big three), it is a player. Adults like it. It has variety. And many people prefer their salty, greasy, square burgers to the BK gristle-burgers and McDonald’s schwag-patties. Wendy’s fries are good, too.

    If you want to compare only hamburgers, then you’re right: lots of smaller chains beat them. But your original question was the former, no?

  20. 23.  BTW, where I grew up, Hardee’s had a reputation for being the absolute bottom of the ladder. They’re all over the place now, and I still have a prejudice against them. This stuff is encoded early on.

    However, I always like Carl’s. I didn’t have that brand baggage when I discovered it and loved the place.

    So I guess a lot of this stuff isn’t just about the food.

  21. 24.  Totally agree with 9, Chik-fil-a rules…I’ve been known to make up another excuse to drive the 90 miles to St. Louis when all I really want to do is eat a couple chicken sandwiches.

    Scott, completely agree with Culver’s Bacon cheeseburger especially with the onion rings and root beer (no ice). Also the 2 for $3 Hardee’s double cheeseburgers are great.

    Most fast food ultimately comes down to the aptitude of the surly teenagers working the grill: case in point, until very recently there was a ‘good’ Wendy’s and a ‘bad’ Wendy’s within two miles of work. I’m not a big fan of Wendy’s either (excepting the Spicy Chicken Sandwich 11), but the ‘good’ Wendy’s at least offered up their modest offerings hot, fast and fresh while the ‘bad’ Wendy’s using the same basic components and equipment, was always terrible.

    In any case, a Tornado roared through town last March and cleansed the local landscape of all traces of Wendy’s, apparently forever.

  22. 25.  22 Good points. I remember growing up in Oklahoma, there were four fast food places right next to each other – KFC, McD’s, BK, and Wendy’s. If we were ever lucky to go as a family, I would always whine for BK, my one sister for McD’s, and my other sister for KFC.

    We almost always ended up going to Wendy’s. Not because it was the place that we all particularly liked, but it was a good compromise for us all. My one sister preferred their chicken sandwich to the other two, my other sister preferred their fries, my mother got a baked potato and salad, and I was fine with the tradeoff of less tasty burger for Frosty.

    I think part of their appeal was the range of menu. Agreed their squrgers suck. But it had a certain family-appeal with its range in menu, and had the salad bar (going along with a health food mini-kick in the 80’s that coincided with jazzercise and aerobics).

  23. 26.  I once saw a Wendy’s employee buying a burger and fries at a McDonald’s two blocks away from his workplace! I remember thinking that the guy must know something that we don’t… Don’t they have discounts or freebies?

  24. 27.  The biggest problem with Wendy’s is just how much their burgers suffer during non-peak hours. Hot off the grill, they actually rock. Once they’ve been sitting, they just roll around in your stomach making you wonder why you just ate the whole thing. I’ve heard good things about the chili, but never had. Their fries suck, like most fast food places — not White Castle bad, but bad. The Frosty had its charms when I was a kid, but once you’ve seen one melted on your dorm room floor, you’ll think twice about ordering one again.

    The new Wendy’s burger with bacon and jalapenos and pepper jack has promise, but the cheese sauce ruins it. Flippin’ cheese sauce ruins everything.

    And when you’re doing an Atkins-esque thing, ain’t nothing like a Wendy’s triple.

  25. 28.  As for why Wendy’s is so big, you have to look at mid-sized towns in middle America where your fast food options are Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and occassionally Hardee’s/Carl Jr. Wendy’s has always had a reputation for having a better burger than the other two burger places and it was always the most innovative in terms of churning out new burgers, especially in the 90’s when it surpassed BK to be #2. BK also suffered because they were bought by Diageo, a French beverage conglomerate and marketing and growth for BK became an aftherthought, so Wendy’s was able to grow as the true alternative to McDonald’s.

    As for Hardee’s, well they basically got killed in the ’80’s when the company that owned them let most of the restaurants go completely to seed, it really deserved its reputation as the dirtiest of all the fast food chains, althought not the Urban legends that grew up around the chain. Since that time, it has been built up, but the problem now is getting people to believe that the restaurant has really changed, so it is basically out of the picture for most people.

    I too think that Culver’s has a lot of growth potential, the main problem I see there is that of all of the fast food restaurants that I have visited multiple locations, they have the largest disparity in quality between restaurants, some are as dirty as Hardee’s in the 80’s, while others are pristine. I’ve found that the one’s in Wisconsin tend to be in much better shape and the order process and delivery efficiency is much better at Culver’s in Wisconsin than the ones I have visited in Illinois and Iowa. If they ever get that down, then watch out.

  26. 29.  I know there’s at least a few Chicagoans on this board, which is why I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Portillo’s yet. Best Italian Beef around, and a great burger.

    I go to Wendy’s about 2-3 times a year, and always order the Spicy Chicken. It’s the only thing worth eating.

    As for the rest, Culvers is really coming on strong and popping up all over the place. Potbelly isn’t a burger joint but they’ve got great, fast sandwiches. If I’m out for fast food, Portillo’s, Culvers, and Potbelly are my top 10 choices, and that’s where I’m going if any of those are there. Otherwise, everything else is merely a convenience.

    I did the contextual comment, too. When I was in college, I loved Papa John’s pizza and Jimmy John’s subs. It was close and cheap, and thus I had it all the time. Without that experience, I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t like either.

  27. 30.  Sonic may have the best fountain drinks in the business. I say “may” because I haven’t tried every chain’s drinks. A Route 44 Coke is one of life’s simple pleasures.

    I once got food poisoning from a Wendy’s meal. It lost a lot of appeal after that.

  28. 31.  In New York, it seems a lot has to do with who’s making the food as well. There are particular locations in all the chains that I avoid like the plague because the staff is made of overly-vindictive teenagers with one overwhelmed or burnt-out manager. I’ve walked away from orders that were prepared by mouthy and petty handlers or cashiers more than a few times.

    There was an incident at a Wendy’s in the Bronx in a neighborhood I used to live in where a customer tore up the place because he found a dead mouse in his chili. Having eaten there before the incident, I would surmise as well as the customer did that the mouse didn’t end up there on its own.

    Perhaps if the quality and treatment of the labor forces in these places were to be examined and treated as fairly as their commercials indicate, there’d be an up-turn in quality in all fast-food restaurants. But then, if these places were more thorough and vigilant in examining the franchises, that kind of culture would be inhibited from the top.

    That said, I like Wendy’s as much for their modestly upscale atmosphere over McDonald’s and Burger King, even in the more urbane locations. It lends a level of sophistication to the food that otherwise would not exist. Not all, but a majority of Wendy’s that I’ve encountered have had superior customer service as compared to a majority of McDonald’s or Burger King. If I had to make a choice, the food to me is better where they treat me better.

  29. 32.  Wendy’s consistently ranks higher than its main competitors in quality, at least partly due to their ad campaigns. I personally like their burgers and I especially like their fries. Plus, they have a very good selection and they present it well.

    I’ve never been in a well-run Arby’s. I don’t think they’re a well-run company.

    My personal favorite is definitely Portillo’s. In the Chicago area, they can’t be beat.

  30. 33.  32. I’ve been in quite a few well-run Arby’s in the Chicago area, but I agree that it is not a well-run company, I worked with the company that provided the roast beef for their sandwiches for a while and they had nothing but complaints about them.
    I like Portillo’s but only the hot dogs, the burgers are mediocre and the Italian Beef is fine, but I don’t really like eating Italian Beef away from home.

  31. 34.  Damn I should have started these Please Explain segments a long time ago. Good stuff.

    Didn’t list Portillo’s because they are based in one city. (chicago) These type of fast-food restaurants with hot dogs, gyros, philly steaks, italian beef, and hamburgers are the best and don’t know why there isn’t a chain in the country that mixes them all. You see these type of restaurants in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, and the east coast cities.

    Hardees were the lowest of the low, until they merged with Carl’s Jr. My favorite Chris Rock line of all-time was on Mayor Marion Berry.

    “Smoked Crack-got ya job back. You can’t even smoke crack and keep your job at McDonalds. They would send your ass to Hardees.”

    Didn’t think about how the east coast has so few fast food choices, compared to the West Coast. Hypothesis: Since people don’t spend as much time in their cars, Diners are more popular on the East Coast?

    I will agree that the Wendy’s chicken sandwich was the best among their competition during the 90’s, but I think KFC and Arby’s have surpassed them in that category.

    Wendy’s is in numerous countries besides the US.

  32. 35.  In regards to Arby’s, their newest products have really created a resurgence there.

    The market fresh sandwiches and salads are high-priced, but are high-quality. The Martha’s Vineyard salad is the best of the fast-food salads in the marketplace. (I get it with Ranch. Check it out.)

    I’ve never really liked the roast beef they use, as it’s too processed. The horsey sauce almost saves it, though.

  33. 36.  Ken, I actually like Nation’s better than any of the aforementioned, but I put it in the same category as In-N-Out and Tommy’s. It’s a burger joint, but not really fast food.

    Scott, I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist punning on “eschew”. And while you’re probably right that context is less important for fast food than for fine dining, if you look at most of these answers, the tend to involve people’s childhoods. With something like fast food, where the quality of even the best food really isn’t THAT great, we often make decisions based on things like, “My dad used to buy my a frosty after we went fishing,” or “I used to eat the spicy chicken sandwich when I was hungover in college.”

    BTW Scott, love this feature, especially for the long days of the offseason. Keep ’em coming.

  34. 37.  35. Absolutely love the horsey sauce, and that is a very good call on their roast beef, it actually is more processed than the roast beef at Hardee’s, they actually turn it into a roast beef slushee and send out to the franchisee’s, at Hardee’s they used to send out the cooked roast beef from the meat processing plant.

  35. 38.  Wow. You’ve obviously hit a nerve because you’re pushing 40 comments on fast food and burgers specifically.
    On Wendy’s, I remember my godmother refusing to eat it because they had square meat and round buns. Pretty odd, but whatever.
    I actually wanted a Wendy’s the other day and decided to see where the closest one was. I came to find out there is not one in the city limits of San Francisco. I cannot figure out why. There are JItB’s everywhere, but I guess the stoner contigent keeps them in business, but Wendy’s has a late night policy as well. I’ve always liked their burgers and think their quality of meat is much better than JItB and McD’s (which is not difficult) but about the same as BK. Sometimes you feel like a Char-Broil, sometimes you don’t. While I enjoy Carl, they are a little pricey for the quality $6 ones. The regular ones fall far short, I believe, in quality compared to Wendy’s.
    Nation’s is my local #1. In-N-Out is out of the way, but always solid (especially Animal-style…mmmm) I recommend looking up their “hidden menu”. Grilled cheese is available as well as lettuce-wrapped for the carb conscious indulger.

  36. 39.  38 Food shape: See Spinal Tap for an example of refusing to eat because of round meat and square bread.

    General observation: I think the answer to this epsidoe of Please Explain can be summed up in market-positioning and advertising.

    Many people above are saying that Wendy’s positions itself as more sophisticated than McDonald’s, and you’d be surprised at how many people choose something other than a taste-test to determine where to eat. Consider the difference between a taqueria in the barrio and Taco Bell — many non-latinos would never set foot in the barrio taqueria, but unquestionably the tacos there would be far superior.

    And on advertising: before I read 7 was going to be “just three words: Where’s the beef?” Clearly, they have reached people with their brand.

    And while it clearly isn’t fast (as you are lucky to get a seat in 20 minutes), one thing I miss most about living in L.A. is Apple Pan, across the street from the Westside Pavilion.

  37. 40.  38 I’m thinking your godmother was a practical woman, as that would make no sense to people with practicality in mind. Not an issue, nope.

    Fast food has been on the nation’s conscious for the past few years, what with the push for healthy foods and the exposes like “Super Size Me” making a direct impact on peoples’ perceptions and opinions, not to mention recent episodes of food poisoning at a certain fast-food chain in NY and CA. There are certainly more choices in the Northeast (Jack-in-the-Box used to be here and we have Hardees, Arby’s, Quiznos, Subway, Checkers, Sonic and the like), their coverage is nowhere near what we consider the top three (McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s). That’s in terms of burgers, anyway. KFC is king chicken in the northeast, regardless of who else has it on the menu, and Pizza Hut/Dominos locks up the nasty pizza chains with Papa John’s and (ugh) Little Caesar’s as afterthoughts.

    The difference of interest with fast food in this area as opposed to the West might have a lot to do with the proliferation of diners and regular restaurants that either have a long-standing presence within the industry or community, or service specific communities; of which there is a wide variety in metropolitan areas. The West Coast, comparitively is still expansive frontier land and more importantly, commuter-driven; it’s to many companies’ advantage to target this population due to the regional geography and demographics that couldn’t ordinarily be supported by family eat-in restaurants and diners, per capita.

    Whew! >;)

  38. 41.  Well I have to say that I’ve been intentionally avoiding McDonalds for the last few years with their stupid “I’m lovin’ it!” campaign. It drives me nuts and I successfully avoided all McDonalds for a few years until I came to Ukraine, where it’s the only burger joint in the city (which is to say the only other way to get a hamburger is to buy ground beef and make it yourself). On the other hand, McDonalds here is better than in Chicago as they still put salt on the fries.

    As far as Wendy’s, I only went there for 2 reasons: 1) Frosty’s and 2) my McDonalds vendetta. My dad used to go to Wendy’s all the time because of the salad bar and brewed iced tea, but when they got rid of those he quit eating there.

    For Arby’s, I hate the place and I really hate the market fresh sandwiches. But that’s mostly due to the fact that I got food poisoning from a market fresh sandwich. Consequently I can never eat there again. (Though prior to that I remember loving the Horsey sauce)

    I love the whole drive-in thing with Sonic, and White Castle is of course drunk food. Although there’s a Mr. Submarine two blocks away from a bar around where I live, which I used to frequent quite a bit….

    As for Taco Bell, I have to say I love it. I know the food there is garbage, grade F meat, and I appreciate good mexican food quite a bit (and eat at not only the Qdoba’s and Chipotle’s of the world, but also order take out from real mexican restaurants) but sometimes there’s nothing like a cheap, crappy Taco Bell Chalupa loaded up with sour cream and cheese. It’s one of the fast food places I miss the most over here.

    And to whoever mentioned Potbelly’s, right on! They make some of the best sandwiches around and their milkshakes are excellent as well.

  39. 42.  I’ve never understood Wendys, but I have a friend who mostly shares my taste in everything who loves their burgers. Go figure. The only national fast food I like is Carls Jr. But their fries are horrible. There’s a local chain in my neck of the woods (Pasadena) called Tops that has good burgers and great fries.

  40. 43.  In what has become an overall fast-food discussion on an ostensibily baseball-oriented blog, I’m surprised at only the most cursory of mentions of hot dogs! I’ve always wondered why hot dog chains can’t seem to catch on; (Der) Wienerschnitzel is as big as has been established. Perhaps it is too easy to tell the difference between a dog that was once frozen and one that never was.

    38 Can’t speak to the entire West Coast, but Southern California appears to have a very high density of all kinds of restaurants, both counter service and table side. When I drove Boston to D.C., via NYC, Philly, etc., this summer, I observed population densities that I perceived as similiar to urban and suburban Southern California, with the main difference being the lack of a single consolidated downtown core like Manhattan, downtown Boston, the Capitol area, etc. The density dropoff once you left, say, Boston proper was faster than when you leave Los Angeles city or even Los Angeles county.

  41. 45.  as others have said…the chicken.

    i think i’ve had a wendy’s burger once in the past 5-7 years. but the spicy chicken is wonderful.

    arby’s grilled chicken blows it (and other chicken away).

    btw, there ARE chick-fil-a’s in the northeast; there’s one in paramus, nj and i think woodbridge as well. i used to go to chickfila once every couple months.

    love quizno’s. blows subway (which i don’t care for) and blimpie’s away.

    having said all that…i don’t eat fast food that much. i’ll have mickey d’s fries once every couple months, but i’m fortunate to be somewhat close to nyc (well, 90 miles north), so there’s some non-chains. and there’s some mexican dive places 5 miles from me that bring meaning to somewhat healthy fast food.

    scott – if you’re touring much outside of your area of food knowledge, you should go to a place like chowhound or roadfood, and ask the ppl there what’s of interest on the way. for example, there is a real good place off route 84 in ny state that’s not a chain, but IS fast food. and good burgers, etc. there’s places like that all over…just a matter of mapping it out in advance.

  42. 46.  I had a Wendy’s a few weeks ago, and I had to throw it away. Can’t agree with you more Mr. Burger. It’s funny, I don’t remember Wendy’s being so below avg. 20 years ago. Oh well, further on down the road I go…

  43. 47.  Wendy’s reason for existence, other than the aforementioned frosty, is the Big Bacon Classic; it’s the second best burger in its price range (but still miles behind a double/double with onion).

    Just a passing thought, but one Simpson’s episode featured the line “I’m so hungry, I could eat at Arby’s.” Arby’s recently getting their act together is no coincidence. You can thank Matt Groening for that one.

  44. 48.  11 is right on for me, there have definitely been times (ESPECIALLY back in the late ’90s before KFC started selling wraps) that I would eat two spicy chickens as a meal and there was nothing greater. Does anybody else remember that commercial for them when the middle-aged man puts his down and says “woah that’s hot!” and the old lady next to him sneers “…rookie!”?

    41 – Which city in Ukraine? I’ve been to the McDs in Kiev and past the one in Lviv, there is definitely something to be said for American food that is cheap and reliable even 4000 miles away.

    43 – The burger place in our campus student union was shut down last semester and turned into a Nathan’s hot dog stand. It is awful. But re: 45 we also have a Chik-fil-A that gives away sandwiches during sports events every so often, which is always nice.

    Scott, these are awesome, keep ’em coming!

  45. 49.  Props for saying nice things about In-N-Out. I can eat there maybe once a year now (diabetes and all), but damn, you get a craving every now and then.

  46. 50.  Wendy’s makes good, cheap food, just not its burgers:
    -The chili is, from what I understand, relatively healthy and pretty filling
    -Ditto the baked potato
    -I can’t believe no one has mentioned the chicken nuggets yet. They’re probably the best, and they’re only a buck! If we’re comparing chains, they blow McD and BK’s out of the water.
    -As mentioned earlier, the chicken sandwiches. I always order them; I don’t actually recall ever eating a Wendy’s burger.
    -I consider Wendy’s fries to be among the top tier. They’re thick, not salted to death like Burger King, 4 out of 5 times it’s fresh and crisp, and even the regular combos IMO give you a generous amount (compare to those little sleeves of Carl’s Jr. and Jack in the Box, which are always soggy).

    The service at Wendy’s is unusually good for fast food. There are a couple of Wendy’s I frequent in my area, and they tend to be among the cleanest and the staff are the friendliest among all fast-food chains I’ve been to.

    Oh, I guess I should mention… I sometimes eat at the Wendy’s where the notorious dismembered finger incident took place… it’s actually down the street from my school, in sort of a poor neighborhood. It’s not bad, in terms of service and cleanliness. I’ve ordered the chili there before.

    In-N-Out makes the best burger IMO. But then again I’ve never so much as sniffed a Sonic’s or White Castle… they don’t really grow out here in the West Coast.

  47. 51.  43. There is only one restaurant in the world I would go to to specifically eat a hot dog. La Pasiva, which is chain in Uruguay, it blows everything other hot dog I’ve ever eaten away. Uruguayans take all of their meat products seriously in a way that I have never seen in the States. The best part of the hot dogs, besides the absurdly cheap price, is the mustard that they provide, unfortunately it can’t be sold commercially because it goes bad after two days.

  48. 52.  I haven’t read all the comments so forgive me if my answer is redundant. Fast Food joints don’t typically succeed on quality, if they did In and Out would own the category and BK would be second and that would be that.

    Fast food joints succeed because of consistency, convenience, and distribution clout (read: number of stores.)

    It’s like the coffee business. You can certainly get a better cup of coffee than the one you’ll get at Starbucks, but Starbucks has stores everywhere, and I know what I’m going to get at each and every one of them.

    I think it’s pretty much as simple as that.

  49. 53.  34 “Diners are more popular on the East Coast?”

    Scott, that is a great point. At least in the northeast, its particularly true the further you are away from Boston and/or NYC.

    Diners also serve the best meal of the day, most all day – breakfast. No fast food place could ever compete with a diner when it comes to breakfast.

    45 Maybe I’m off here, but since when is Jersey considered part of the northeast? I’ve always considered Jersey to be a mid-Atlantic state. You’re right though, there are Chick-fil-As all over Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and Delaware (according to chickfila.com). Pretty far hike from Boston, though.

    Last but not least, the nicest-looking, cleanest, friendliest, and best-run McDonald’s I’ve ever been to was in Paris near the Eiffel Tower. Best McDonald’s food I’ve ever had, too.

  50. 54.  53. You have to remember most of the posters here are from the West Coast and pretty much, when you’re not on the East Coast, the East is basically divided between the Northeast and the Southeast, there is no need for nuance like Mid-Atlantic. Just like people don’t really need to differentiate between the Midwest and the High Plains

  51. 55.  I have a love-hate relationship with Wendy’s. When they’re on the ball, the double combo is exquisite. Crisp, salty fries and burger cooked with a little crust on it, it’s damn near paradise. However, if you get them on a bad day, you get cold, soggy fries, and a slimy greasy burger.
    Sadly, their bad days have been out-numbering the good lately. Add to that their inability to put extra salt and ketchup in the bag, even when I ask for it, and I’ve been Wendy’s-free since November.

    I’d like to echo 41’s comment on McDonald’s advertising. I’ve been boycotting them and Carl’s Jr. because of their ads. McD’s ads are dumb, but Carl’s are nauseating. I don’t need to hear people slurping the food down, and I don’t want to hear those Philly cab-drivers talking with their mouths full.

  52. 56.  To #48 (don’t know how to link to posts) – I am in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, located in the northeast part of the country (and maybe 50 miles from the Russian border). It’s an interesting city because people here never speak Ukrainian and sometimes even look down on others who do. But that’s okay, it’s why I came here to study Russian, I get more practice than back home in Chicago.

  53. 57.  My top 5 burger as it would appear before I stopped eating red meat:

    1. Tommy’s double chili chese
    2. In-n-out Double Double
    3. Carl’s Double Western Bacon
    4. Jack-n-the-box’s Ultimate (no mayo)
    5. Del Taco’s Double Del

    My top 5 now, based on which I crave the most would be in this order: 3, 1, 2, 4, 5.

    I’m with you on the Carl’s Jr. issue.

    I can’t explain Wendy’s other than they’re average and reliable. Package that with decent marketing, familiarity, and a solid set of french fries and you’ve got customers.

  54. 58.  52 I agree that fast-food joints don’t excell on their quality, but your choice of #2 explains why there are so many options out there and perhaps explains the Wendy’s question in a nutshell.

    You see Schteeve, I consider Burger King to be a small—make that infinitesimal—step above dog food. I do not fault you for it, I like White Castle and some people have far stronger reactions to that than BK. Even though there is not a w i d e variety of fastfood out there, variety does exist.

    One man’s #2 quick service meal is another’s dog food. There is room for all kinds of mediocrity in this business.

  55. 59.  It’s the Frosty for me and I like the fries over all the other fast food joints.

    55
    Carl’s ad’s have been the worse on TV for 10 years. I figure it’s a culling test. Those that enjoy the commercials should be ear tagged and used for organ donors.

  56. 60.  By the way, I’ll just drop an idea that would be perfectly in line with Carl’s Jr’s type of advertising: buy off subway Jared. Carl’s Jr must be able to outbid Subway, and it would be a hilarious instant classic.

  57. 61.  I’ve always considered Jersey to be part of the 4th or 5th circle of Hell, actually.

    Mid-Hell?

  58. 62.  60. Carl’s Jr. has nowhere near the money that Subway has. That would be like telling the Pittsburgh Pirates to outbid the New York Mets for Pedro Martinez.

  59. 63.  Obviously, Wendy’s knows they’re in some trouble. They just changed ad agencies.

    http://tinyurl.com/yrcdk7

    From the article:

    Wendy’s rival and market leader McDonald’s today reported record earnings for 2006. Wendy’s, the No. 3 fast-food chain (behind Burger King), on Jan. 5 posted improved same-store sales during the fourth quarter of 2006, though last year started out disastrously, with negative same-store sales in the first half. Those results had compounded an already bad situation, as 2005 ended with losses. That poor performance prompted a franchisee revolt, and activist investor Nelson Peltz won seats for himself and two disciples on the company’s board. Last April, Chairman-CEO Jack Schuessler was ousted.

    Kerri Anderson, named CEO-president in November after serving as interim chief for several months, reshuffled management and marketing, trimmed employees and shed assets to cut $100 million in costs.

    While Wendy’s same-store sales have turned positive, executives close to the matter said franchisees remained unhappy with sales, given its long drought and the improved sales at rival burger chains. “How long can you be down,” asked one industry observer.

    My personal opinion? Wendy’s food is lousy. It used to be kind of good when I was a kid, when there weren’t very many of them. The worst feature? Their bread.

  60. 64.  53 – nj’s part of the northeast, though i can understand why people in ma/me/vt/nh wouldn’t consider it so.

    i’m not a hotdog person, but i’ve been told grey’s papaya in nyc has great fast food dogs.

    and the pushcart vendors in midtown nyc serve better ‘fast food’ than any store. so many different types of food, all hot and good.

    and i thought in major parts of russia, they have good street vendors as well? but that’s what i heard third-hand a long time ago…

  61. 66.  65 Schteeve, I’ve pissed off a number of people on this board over the years, but I honestly did not intend to insult you regarding BK’s appeal.

    I tried to indicate my non-hostile intent by stating,”I like White Castle and some people have far stronger reactions to that than BK”…I meant to convey that others would consider dog food to be high praise for White Castle, a burger that I like.

    No patronizing intended, really.

    In fact, I ate at BK tonight. Whopper Jr. (no mayo), 4 piece nugget and fries. The fries were pretty tasty—the rest, well it wasn’t dog food. All in all I’ll stick to Culver’s locally.

    Peace.

  62. 67.  Scott,
    I like the ‘Please Explain’ but the debate is bound to become so overly pretentious. Its kind of like people who never admit to watching tv because they think it makes them seem lazy. Alot of people won’t admit to enjoying fast food cause its just not the ‘in’ thing to do.

  63. 68.  jeffpico- I agree with this being a potential problem, but this is why I’m trying to steer the conversation to both the intellectual and the gut level response. I figure if I don’t at least once piss every juiceblog reader off, I haven’t been diverse enough on this.

    What I like most about this segment is that it gives me new ways of looking at these subjects. I’m also happy that so many people are checking into the comments section.

  64. 70.  64 – I don’t know about Russia itself, but here in Ukraine there are a lot of pushcart vendors and small kiosks that sell a lot of food. Mostly breaded/fried stuff and pastries/sweets. They also have hot dogs, but I’ve yet to try one since I know they’ll put ketchup on it (Chicago thing).

    But nowhere in Kharkov can you find a hamburger outside of McDonalds/making one at home.

  65. 71.  62 – Noted. Guess I should do some fast food earnings research before I screw up like that again.

  66. 72.  There was a Wendy’s across the street from teh restauraunt I worked at for 2 years. You would think it would be a nice change of pace. I went there 4 times, and every time was massively disappointed with everything but the Frosty.

    Everyone thought it was gross, but I loved dipping the fries in the Frosty…that was the only way I could eat those fries.

    My favorite two fast food restaurants are Taco Bell and Carl’s Jr (and Im mexican, so you’d think I’d stick my nose up at taco bell). But damn those chalupa’s…

    The greatest fast food burger is the Carl’s Jr. Bacon Western Cheeseburger with extra BBQ sauce. 1000 calories of pure bliss.

    In-n-Out is good, particularly their burgers, but their fries suck sooooo bad. I don’t want to say they are overrated, but they kinda are, actually. McDonalds has the best fries, hands down.

    I dunno, is Chipotle really comparable to taco Bell? Obviously its better, but thats not really the same, is it?

  67. 73.  56 – Ahhh so you are deep in Yanukovich territory, sounds like fun! Thanks for the response; to link to a post just put the number in [brackets].

    For 53/54: from a sometime resident of NJ, I can tell ya that sometimes the state seems like basically 1/3 New York City (Newark), 1/3 Philly (Camden) and 1/3 Boardwalks (AC to Ocean City to the MD border). However, there is actually quite a lot of diversity environment-wise throughout the state, up north you have some really scenic exurb country, as you go south you hit the Pine Barrens which are exactly what they sound like they are, and then surprising amounts of woodlands farther south basically the entire way from the Phila suburbs to the various beaches. You can easily drive for an hour or two and see farms, industrial parks, casinos, beaches, forests, and even a giant metropolitan area or two.

    Unless you are talking hockey teams. THEN it’s only NY vs Phila, as NJ Devils fans apparently only exist within the confines of the Continental Airlines arena 😉

  68. 74.  If you’re going to get the fries at In-N-Out, you’ve got to get them well down. Nice and crispy.

    As far as Wendy’s goes, nothing rocks harder than the 99 cent Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger.

    I live in Fresno, and there’s a regional chain here called Foster’s Freeze. They’ve got the best fast food I’ve ever had, and the best milkshakes ever.

  69. 75.  I like Wendy’s for their baked potaters and fries and salads. The quality of their chicken and beef is better in my opinion. The spinach salad(before the great spinach scare) was very tasty. Call me a snob but as soon as I bite into one of the gristley hard bits in a McDonalds burger, that’s it…done eating, lost my appetite.

    In -n- Out burger, best fast food joint ever.

    Kerry

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