Whether you’re in it for the burgers, the fries, the Frosty, or just to have a break from McDonald’s, a trip to Wendy’s is usually a great way to get your fast food fix. They have a wide variety of foods to choose from, some amazingly crispy chicken, and some genuinely fresh, never frozen beef (unlike some other restaurants). But, like every successful franchise, Wendy’s has some secrets it doesn’t want you to know.
While the burgers really are made fresh from meat that has been refrigerated, not frozen, there are some other things on the menu that are a little more sketchy. While there aren’t any real, 100 percent health risks, there are a few things you might want to know before you order, say, a cup of chili or a large lemonade. We did a deep dive into the history and the mysteries of Wendy’s to let you know which menu items you might be better off not choosing when you pull up to the drive thru, and what you might want to keep in mind about Wendy’s in general.
Wendy’s founder started out working for a rival fast food chain
If you grew up in the United States, chances are pretty good that you saw some of the Wendy’s commercials from the late 1980s and 1990s that featured Dave Thomas, the founder of the restaurant chain. In fact, a company survey proved that at one point, an incredible 90 percent of the public knew who Thomas was. To Americans, Thomas was synonymous with Wendy’s, perhaps just as much as the iconic little red-haired girl on the signage.
What you might not know, though, is that Wendy’s wasn’t the first fast food joint Dave Thomas worked for. When Thomas started out in the restaurant business in the 1950s, he was a head cook at Hobby House, which then partnered with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Once KFC was taken over by Colonel Sanders, Thomas came to be an invaluable member of the team, rising up quickly through the ranks and coming up with revolutionary ideas that helped to turn KFC into the highly successful business it is to this day, such as its signature red and white buckets and having Sanders appear in commercials for KFC so that the public would know who he was.
Thomas was so useful that his bosses sent him to Columbus, Ohio to help get some of their failing franchises back on track, and it was there that he was hit with the inspiration to create his own restaurant.
Dave Thomas’ daughter isn’t really named Wendy
Hold onto your hats, because this next secret might just be the most shocking one on this list.
It is common knowledge that Wendy’s is named after Dave Thomas’ daughter. The cute little girl with the red hair and pigtails on the sign and the bags was designed to look like her, and she has been welcoming people into Wendy’s restaurants since the first one opened in 1969. The shocking part, though, is that this "Wendy" we are speaking of was not actually named Wendy at all.
Thomas’ daughter was actually named Melinda Lou, but had trouble pronouncing her name when she was a toddler. She often referred to herself as "Wenda" instead, which became her nickname. Family members called her this as well, so for a time she stopped being Melinda and became Wenda. "Wenda" sounds a little weird as the name of a fast food chain, however, so Thomas changed it to the more conventional "Wendy" for the business, and the rest is history.
Wendy’s has a secret menu
It is no secret that Wendy’s has a pretty great menu. It isn’t super long, so it’s easy to remember what you like, and there is a wide selection of burgers and chicken sandwiches to choose from. What few people know, though, is that the Wendy’s menu isn’t limited to just what you see on the sign behind the counter. There is actually a "secret menu" chock full of sandwiches you might never have thought to order otherwise, if you know exactly how to ask for it.
This secret menu includes several other types of hamburgers not listed on the regular menu, such as the Grand Slam Burger, made with four beef patties "sandwiched between two slices of cheese" and a bun (or a slice of cheese between each patty if you ask for it) and the Asiago Beef Burger, which is basically the same as the Asiago Chicken sandwich, only made with beef instead of chicken. There is also the Quadruple Baconator, a burger with four beef patties with a slice of bacon sandwiched between each layer, the T-Rex with nine (yes, nine!) beef patties and nine slices of cheese topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles, and the Jurassic Burger, which is the same as the T-Rex burger, but with a ridiculous 10 beef patties stacked between two buns. We’ve got the meat sweats just thinking about it!
Wendy’s chili is made with old hamburger bits
The number one best way to find out all the dirty little secrets of a company is to ask its current and former employees. Websites like Reddit are full of Wendy’s workers who were more than ready to spill the beans on its practices behind the scenes, and one of the hottest topics they wanted to discuss was Wendy’s chili. When asked "What’s the one thing on [Wendy’s] menu I shouldn’t order?", one user was quick to respond that you should definitely pass on this meaty mess. "The meat comes from the left over meat on the grill that dries out. It’s then cut up, frozen, and bagged for later use in the chili."
While he or she goes on to say that this isn’t a health code violation and won’t make you sick, it is still pretty darn unappealing. Another user adds that the other ingredients for the chili come "dry in a bag" and are mixed with water and the frozen beef and cooked for around four hours. Then, in his or her own gut-twisting words, "Voila!!! Watery, leftover-meat chili!!!"
The lemons in Wendy’s lemonade machine are just for show
If you’ve got a hankering for some all-natural, fresh-squeezed lemonade, don’t look for it at Wendy’s. "But there are sliced lemons right there, floating around in the pitcher!" you might say, as you look at the restaurant’s lemonade dispenser. But according to former Wendy’s employee Kayla Blanton, these lemons are purely decorative. "I hate to break it to you," she says, "but the lemonade we would make at my store was just about as ‘fresh’ as the powder you mix with water at home."
She goes on to add that this lemonade lie is made with a "ton" of sugar, making it extremely unhealthy. While health probably isn’t your first priority when visiting a fast-food restaurant, it is something to keep in mind when you go to order a large drink. You don’t want to ruin your day with a sugar rush or a stomach ache after drinking too much lemonade that wasn’t even fresh-squeezed to begin with.
Don’t expect Wendy’s spicy nuggets to be fresh
Reddit is a gold-mine when it comes to getting advice about what to order (and not to order) at restaurants. One very interesting thread was started when a user asked, "Fast-food workers of reddit, what’s something all your customers should be aware of?" Another user responded on behalf of Wendy’s and wrote "Don’t buy the Wendy’s spicy chicken nuggets. If you do, ask for fresh ones." They explained that these flaming hot snacks are not as popular as you would think, so they are not usually very fresh.
Spicy chicken nuggets have a tendency to be cooked early in the day, and then sit on the grill for hours and hours, leaving them to "become hard nasty little raisins." This leads to a terrible taste and texture (which is probably why they aren’t very popular in the first place…), and a burning stomach full of regret.
If you still want spicy nuggets, you can ask for them to be cooked fresh at the time of your order so you will know exactly how long they have been left out. This also allows you to enjoy their true taste, instead of some stale, dried up version of it.
If you want fresh fries at Wendy’s, you have to ask for them
French fries are awesome. This is a fact. They are delicious, greasy, salty goodness, high-fat Heaven on Earth, and we Americans just can’t get enough of them. Sometimes, though, you order fries and get cold, hard, or mushy ones. If you want to avoid this at Wendy’s, be sure to ask for freshly cooked fries.
According to a post by former Wendy’s worker on Reddit, "Cooked fries would sit for hours, so would baked potatoes. Nothing unsanitary about this, it just makes for some limp fries and dry potatoes." It’s understandable that employees don’t throw fresh fries into the oil every time someone orders them if they already have some ready, but if you really want to enjoy your takeout, you want the freshest fries possible.
"Like others have said," the poster continues, "you can ask for fresh fries and we’ll passive aggressively make you a new batch." Hate doesn’t make fries taste any less delicious, so we’ll keep this in mind for our next order.
The busiest time is the best time to order at Wendy’s
If you’ve ever walked into a fast food restaurant or pulled up to the drive-thru, only to find that a million other people had the same idea as you, you’re not alone. For some, a long line at the window or at the counter is a sign that they should leave and come back later, but when it comes to Wendy’s, you shouldn’t be so hasty.
A former employee of Wendy’s wrote on Reddit that "peak hour [is] the best time to order." According to them, this is the time when the kitchen, counter, and drive-thru are "manned by the fastest and most experienced employees." "We’d be running that place like a machine," she says of her time working during these rush hours. Since there are so many people ordering so much food, everything is fresh and hot off the grill. Plus, since none of the employees (or better yet, their managers) want to turn a waiting crowd into a surly, angry one, orders are whipped out as quickly and efficiently as possible, meaning that usually no one has to wait more than two minutes for their food.
Don’t buy a Wendy’s Frosty until after the lunch rush
Wendy’s Frostys are the perfect complement to a big, juicy hamburger, a warm, crispy chicken sandwich, or even just a big box of fries. If you love this delectable, light-but-satisfying dessert though, you might want to stop reading now. Learning how Frostys are made is a little like learning how hot dogs are made: once you find out, you will never be able to look at this frozen treat the same way again.
According to another former Wendy’s worker, Frostys are delivered to the restaurant in a big plastic bag "and look like chocolate milk." This liquid is then poured into a machine that cools it to the freezing point and then "[pumps] it out like ice cream." While the machine is always well-cleaned and maintained, the Frosty mix that is left over when the restaurant closes each night is poured into a bucket and placed in the bottom of the fridge, uncovered, and left alone all night to be reused again the next day, meaning that you never really know how fresh your Frosty is.
Luckily, there is a solution that might make you feel a little less squeamish. "If you want a Frosty," says the Reddit poster, "I suggest getting one after the lunch rush when the old stuff has been used and new stuff put in the machine."
The Wendy’s drive-thru mic is always on
Have you ever heard the phrase, "Big Brother is watching you?" Well, change that to "Big Brother is listening to you," and you’ve got the Wendy’s drive-thru. According to former employee Kayla Blanton, Wendy’s employees can hear you as soon as you pull up to the speaker. The weight of your car trips a sensor that causes the microphone to turn on, and as long as your car is there, anyone with the company headphones on inside can hear you.
"So yeah, they can hear you talking to your mom on the phone, or complaining about the line in front of you," Blanton says. While most people are surely just getting their order straight before the employee comes on to ask for it, other people are notorious for trash talking while they wait to be served, which can make it very difficult for the employees to want to give you the best service possible. So the best rule of thumb is to just assume that someone is always listening, and to only say nice things until you get your food!
Complaining about a bad order can get you free food at Wendy’s
If it’s possible to get dried-out chicken nuggets, days-old Frostys, and chili with old meat bits in it, it should be possible to get some sort of reimbursement to make up for it if it tastes bad, right? Many restaurants have a policy that pretty much states that if you already ate it and didn’t like it, that’s just too bad. But according to an alleged Wendy’s employee on Reddit, Wendy’s is more fair.
"Wendy’s will pretty much bend over backwards for a customer," they say. The restaurant wants your business (they can’t make money by driving away customers), so in most cases if you make a complaint about an order that wasn’t up to par, they will be willing to give you a free hamburger or something equivalent to make up for it.
Don’t push it though, and don’t go up to the counter grumpy and yelling and ready for a fight — just politely tell them that your order was unsatisfactory and ask if there is anything they can do. More times than not, they will offer you a free sandwich to make up for it, because they are all about customer satisfaction.