How Fast-Food Menus Have Changed Over the Years

In 1948, the McDonald brothers reduced the restaurant’s offerings down to just nine items to make their Speedee Service system even more efficient.

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McDonald’s menu.

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The new menu included hamburgers, cheeseburgers, soft drinks, milk, coffee, potato chips, and a slice of pie for dessert. In 1949, potato chips were swapped with french fries and McDonald’s began selling milkshakes.

In 1965, McDonald’s introduced the Filet-O-Fish sandwich nationwide.

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An ad for the Filet-O-Fish.

Mike Blake/Reuters


According to Smithsonian Magazine, it was created in 1962 by Lou Groen, a McDonald’s franchise owner in Cincinnati, Ohio, after he realized hamburger sales were declining on Fridays during the season of Lent.

Groen then decided to create a sandwich featuring fish instead of beef. Three years later, it was made available nationwide and has remained on McDonald’s menus ever since.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and trying to streamline its operations, McDonald’s limited its menu.

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McDonald’s drive-through during the coronavirus pandemic.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin


McDonald’s stopped serving all-day breakfast and removed its chicken tenders, grilled chicken sandwich, a few burgers, and salads from menus nationwide.

“To simplify operations in our kitchens and for our crew, and ensure the best possible experience for our customers, we are working with our franchisees and local restaurants to focus on serving our most popular choices and will begin temporarily removing some items from the menu,” Bill Garrett, McDonald’s senior vice president of operations, said in a statement to Business Insider.

While some items, like the Bacon McDouble, are back, others were permanently cut from the menu.

McDonald’s is also experimenting with celebrity collaborations in a bid to reach Gen Z customers.

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McDonald’s Saweetie meal.

Erin McDowell/Insider/Jerritt Clark/Getty Images


Rapper Travis Scott’s collaboration with the chain was a huge success — so much so that McDonald’s reported it was experiencing burger shortages as people clamored to try it. About a month after the release of the Travis Scott meal collab, McDonald’s launched another partnership with reggaeton star J Balvin.

Since then, McDonald’s has partnered with South Korean boy band BTS and rapper Saweetie on meal collaborations, which both included limited-edition sauces.

Burger King opened its doors in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1953, as “Insta-Burger King.”

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An early Burger King restaurant.

Burger King


The chain, which quickly grew to be the second-largest fast-food chain in the country, behind McDonald’s, served 18-cent flame-broiled burgers, milkshakes, and fries.

In 1957, Burger King released its signature burger, the Whopper.

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Burger King Whopper.

Reuters


The Whopper was 37 cents compared to Burger King’s original burger, which cost 18 cents. The Whopper came with sauce, cheese, lettuce, pickles, and tomato, all piled on top of a larger patty.

Today, Burger King still broils and flame-grills its burgers.

More recently, Burger King revolutionized its menu with the addition of the Impossible Whopper, a meat-free version of its iconic sandwich.

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Close-up of Burger King menu board with an advertisement for the Impossible Whopper.

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Burger King’s Impossible Whopper was hugely successful for the chain. According to CNN, Burger King reported a 10% increase in sales following the launch of the Impossible Burger in 2019.

However, while the burger is plant-based, Burger King received criticism after a customer sued the company for serving a burger that’s not actually 100% vegan. Since the patties are cooked on the same grills as traditional meat burgers, they may come into contact with meat by-products. Burger King responded saying the chain never advertised the burger as vegan or promised to cook them in a particular way.

The Dwarf Grill in Hapeville, Georgia, opened in 1946. It would eventually become what we now know as Chick-fil-A.

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Dwarf Grill menu.

Business Insider/Hayley Peterson


The business, owned and operated by founder Truett Cathy, started off by selling standard items like waffles, breakfast foods, sandwiches, and burgers. 

However, everything changed when Chick-fil-A created its original chicken sandwich in 1964.

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Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich.

Shutterstock/rblfmr


According to Chick-fil-A, Cathy tested hundreds of recipes for the original chicken sandwich before landing on a winner — a fried chicken fillet with two pickles on a toasted butter bun.

Though Chick-fil-A has expanded immensely since then, the chicken sandwich has remained virtually the same.

In 1989, Chick-fil-A added a grilled chicken sandwich to its menu.

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Chick-fil-A grilled chicken club sandwich.

Hollis Johnson


Introduced as a “health-conscious option” for Chick-fil-A customers, Cathy introduced the original grilled chicken sandwich alongside the deluxe grilled chicken sandwich, which included the same pickle-juice-marinated grilled chicken, pickles, and white bun, along with lettuce and tomato.

In 1993, Chick-fil-A added the grilled chicken club sandwich to its menu. Then, in 2017, the chain announced it would be releasing a gluten-free bun option.

In-N-Out became California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand when it opened in 1948.

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In-N-Out in the 1960s.

In-N-Out


In 1958, In-N-Out replaced its bottled drinks with fountain service, offering customers beverages like Pepsi Cola, Nesbitt Orange, and Hires Root Beer. According to In-N-Out, a 12-ounce soda cost just 10 cents at the time.

In 1963, In-N-Out began serving its famous Double-Double burger.

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Double-Double burger on the menu.

Irene Jiang/Business Insider


In 1975, In-N-Out began serving milkshakes. A few years later, In-N-Out opened its first location with a dining room in Ontario, California.

However, while some new items have been added since 1948, the menu is still pretty similar to the original menu, offering basic fast-food items like burgers and fries.

White Castle is regarded as the first fast-food hamburger chain in America. It opened its doors in 1921.

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White Castle.

White Castle



Founded by Billy Ingram as a family-owned business, the fast-food establishment originally sold 5-cent, small, square hamburgers by the sack. They would come to be known as “sliders.”

In 1943, White Castle would sell hot dogs and fried eggs instead of its iconic burgers as a result of the war’s beef rationing.

In 1962, White Castle began selling cheeseburgers.

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White Castle sliders on a grill.

Win McNamee/Getty Images


This addition came 15 years after the chain secured a patent for its “holy” burgers — each burger is still grilled with five holes punched into it to add more flavor and help them cook faster.

Today, White Castle still sells its iconic sliders.

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White Castle food.

Hollis Johnson


The sliders are also sold in grocery stores nationwide, meaning you can get your White Castle fix right at home. In 2018, White Castle revolutionized its menu by offering the plant-based Impossible Slider.

Popeyes first opened in 1972 as “Chicken on the Run” in the New Orleans suburb of Arabi, Louisiana.

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Popeyes restaurant in 2000.

David McNew/Newsmakers/Getty Images


The restaurant originally served traditional, Southern-style fried chicken. However, after the restaurant faced lackluster sales for a few months, founder Alvin C. Copeland Sr. changed the restaurant’s name to “Popeyes” and began selling spicy New Orleans-style chicken.

In 1983, Popeyes began selling buttermilk biscuits.

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Popeyes restaurant.

Brad Kemp / AP Images


The biscuits are now regarded as one of Popeyes’ most iconic menu items and come with the chain’s combo meals.

Before its famous chicken sandwich hit the menu, Popeyes mainly sold fried chicken and seafood.

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A Popeyes restaurant takeout order menu is seen on February 21, 2017, in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images


The chain launched its Butterfly Shrimp Tackle Box in 2009, while Chicken Waffle Tenders and the Cajun Surf & Turf hit menus in 2013. 

Since then, Popeyes has also started experimenting with celebrity collaborations.

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The author holding the Megan Thee Stallion Popeyes chicken sandwich.

Erin McDowell/Insider


On October 19, Popeyes launched a new collaboration with rapper Megan Thee Stallion. The collab included a new iteration of its iconic chicken sandwich, which comes covered in limited-edition “Hottie” sauce, a slightly spicier version of sweet-and-sour sauce.

When Insider’s Erin McDowell tried the sandwich, she thought it was better than the original, although the sauce could have been spicier.

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