If you live in a big or even biggish city, the kind of place where there’s a Starbucks, a Mickey Ds and a taco truck on every corner, you might not "get" Dairy Queen. In fact, there’s a chance you may have never even seen one outside of their commercials. If you live in East Podunk or South Nowhere, however, Dairy Queen may well be your town’s social hub.
As it turns out, DQ’s small town ubiquity is a very deliberate, and very successful, marketing strategy. In a nutshell, they would rather be the only fish in a small puddle than have to compete with all the sharks swimming in the ocean.
Should you find yourself living in, or even passing through, one of these food deserts (or puddles), you may need to eat at DQ for lack of any other option. If you must, you must, but watch out for the following menu items sure to displease even the least picky palate.
The burgers might make you sick
You’d think a basic burger would be pretty hard to screw up, right? Ground beef, grill, bun, and done. Usually a safe bet off any fast food menu… but not so at DQ, at least some of the time. Restaurant reviewers have remarked on their burgers’ peculiar texture, charred taste, and soggy buns, while former employees speak of burgers spending too long in the warming pan. What’s really upsetting, however, is complaints from customers claiming that their DQ burgers caused them to experience serious food poisoning symptoms.
One man even sued a Fort Worth Dairy Queen over a moldy burger that sent him to the ER and cost him over $20,000 in medical bills. According to Ralph Bryan’s attorney, the barber was busy at work when his wife brought him a double patty burger. He took several bites of the burger while it was still partly covered in its wrapper, but declined to finish the rest — it wasn’t until later that he saw the bun was covered in mold.
When Bryan later complained to the restaurant where the burger had been ordered, the manager offered him a coupon in compensation. Instead, he chose to file a lawsuit seeking $200,000 to $1 million in damages for his pain and suffering, and perhaps to cover the likely cost of his choosing pricier restaurants for his future dining needs.
The chicken might be raw
Raw or under-cooked chicken is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness, according to the Center for Disease Control. Not exactly news to most of us, whose moms all warned us never to eat pink chicken. So what’s up with DQ employees? Did they all have their earbuds in when mom was dispensing this crucial bit of chicken-related advice? If not, why, for the love of Colonel Sanders, can’t they make sure all of the chicken they’re serving is actually cooked??
For years unhappy customers have been taking to social media to report raw or under-cooked chicken strips from Dairy Queen, some of them even posting photos to prove they’re not exaggerating. One Indianapolis man took his complaints farther than posting an online rant, however. When Zach Cruse found an uncooked chicken strip in his order, he reported it to DQ corporate. As a result of his complaint, the employee responsible was fired and the local health department launched an investigation of the restaurant’s food preparation procedures. Luckily, Mr. Cruse apparently did not become ill from the small amount of raw chicken he consumed, thus sparing himself a very unpleasant experience and sparing DQ from more costly and embarrassing litigation.
The soft serve is a breeding ground for bacteria
Oh no, say it ain’t so! If there’s one thing DQ is justly famed for, it’s the soft-serve ice cream they’ve been dishing up since their first store opened in 1940. The thing about soft-serve ice cream, however, is that what makes it so soft is the extra air that’s added into it. This is done with the aid of a pretty complicated machine which can harbor all kinds of nasty bacteria.
One Dairy Queen in Xiamen, China was actually closed down for a while due to high levels of colon bacillus found in its ice cream products, a bacteria which can lead to vomiting, cramps and diarrhea. While the employees of that particular store were afterwards monitored to make sure they kept the soft serve machine super clean, this does not appear to be a policy that most Dairy Queens are able to follow.
It turns out that the machines are actually very difficult to get completely clean. The owner of a Dairy Queen in Iowa had her workers clean the soft-serve machines twice a day, and even replaced all of the hoses and fittings on one machine, and yet that machine still failed to meet state sanitation standards and was shut down by local health authorities.
One worker who repairs the machines used to make soft serve ice cream commented that he would never allow his family to eat the product, due to the difficulty of disinfecting them sufficiently to kill off most of the bacteria. The most unsanitary part of these machines, he stated, was the nozzles, as these become clogged with foul-smelling green gunk. Ewww, just what you want as the base of your sundae.
The chili cheese dogs are just nasty
A chili cheese dog is the ultimate "who cares about nutrition, who cares about my white shirt, I’m just gonna eat what I wanna eat and go-for-broke" treat. And every bite of that indulgence should absolutely be worth any weight gain, indigestion, or stain removal it results in. If you choose Dairy Queen’s dog, however, your regrets may begin with the first bite.
A food reviewer with Business Insider magazine, who has tasted some of the worst items that fast food restaurants have dished up over the years, still states that the hands-down worst thing she’s ever tried is Dairy Queen’s chili cheese dog. She was unimpressed by the meager amount of chili and the barely-melted, crusty cheese, but what really threw her was the alleged meat inside the bun. She didn’t think it tasted like a hot dog at all, even a bad one. Another taste tester described the hot dog as tasting like it was three weeks old.
Ha, maybe not three weeks, exactly, but there’s a good chance that hot dog wasn’t exactly fresh off the grill. One former DQ employee admitted that the hot dogs were used "over, and over, and over" and even reheated to serve the next day if they weren’t all gone by closing time.
The salads are not even worth it
Dairy Queen, like just about every other fast food chain out there, does offer a few salads on its menu for the trying-to-be health conscious diner — or perhaps the one who’s saving all her calories for dessert. The problem with ordering a salad at DQ, though, is that you definitely won’t get what you’re paying for.
One DQ employee, commenting anonymously on Reddit (as one does), described the ingredients as "old lettuce, cabbage, carrots and even older grilled chicken." Ewww, sounds like a way for them to get rid of unwanted leftovers. What’s more, this same employee revealed a menu change circa 2016, a sneaky downsizing maneuver in which the salad amounts were reduced but the bowls were redesigned to hide this.
Oh yeah, and about that "healthy option" thing? Umm, not so much. All of the main course salads range from 270 to 400 calories and 11 to 21 grams of fat, and that’s without any dressing. If you choose anything other calorie-wise zesty Italian dressing, you’ll be adding on another 100+ calories, and 10+ more grams of fat.
The Royal Reese Brownie Blizzard is the single most fattening treat on the menu
Ok, so nobody goes to Dairy Queen and orders a Blizzard thinking it’s going to be part of a nutritious, well-balanced diet. These are nothing but delicious calorie bombs and we all know it. Every once in a while, you just gotta indulge, though, right? Well, there’s indulging and then there’s just plan insanity, and at DQ we think we’ve found one menu item that totally crosses over the line: the Royal Reese Brownie Blizzard filled with peanut butter, in the large size, comes in at a whopping 1500 calories!
1500. Wow. That is fully 75 percent of the 2,000 recommended daily calories endorsed by the federal Food and Drug Administration. In fact, the FDA categorizes any food over 400 as "high calorie," so what would they think of this Blizzard? They’d probably have to create a whole new category, perhaps "ridiculous calorie."
Of course, if you want to indulge but you have a little self control, you can always order this Blizzard in a mini size, 6 ounces coming in at a mere 520 calories. If moderation’s not your thing, at least you can always console yourself that the large size does supply a respectable 37 grams of protein thanks to its peanut butter-filled core.
The banana split Blizzard is a sloppy mess
In 2018 a panel of taste testers from foodie website The Takeout set out to rank 19 different Blizzards, and the one that came in dead last, scoring only 1 out of 20 possible taste points, was the Banana Split Blizzard. The most succinct criticism was that it "sucks," but further explanation revealed its watery consistency and a sour taste from overripe bananas. The strawberry and chocolate flavorings were said to be faint, and the pineapple not noticeable at all. The conclusion was that this particular Blizzard was pretty much one big fail.
There is, however, one positive thing about the Banana Split Blizzard that the reviewers failed to recognize —– you just might be able to get it free if you order it from one of the Dairy Queen franchises that backs up the chain’s promise to flip your Blizzard upside-down before serving it. A Redditor who worked for Dairy Queen revealed that if you order this particular Blizzard made with chocolate ice cream and extra strawberry, chocolate and pineapple, flipping it is almost impossible unless the employee is really, really quick. An added bonus if you’re into schadenfreude — most DQ employees really, really hate making these.
The chicken and waffles are an overhyped disappointment
On April Fool’s Day 2019, Dairy Queen decided to jump on the recently-trendy chicken and waffles train, just days after KFC re-launched its version of the southern breakfast/dinner mashup. While the product launch was no joke, neither did it live up to the bliss and ecstasy seemingly promised by its oh-so-annoying "Date Night" TV commercial.
Reviewers were underwhelmed by the size and number of the waffles, one Facebook commenter even remarking that they seemed frozen. Some reviewers felt that the chicken tenders also had that "frozen vibe," and weren’t as good as those offered by KFC, as well as being on the small side. Customers also remarked on the price, thinking it way too high for an entrée that did not even include a drink. Other complaints included too much sugar, syrup leaking out of the box, and superfluous fries.
While DQ’s chicken and waffles are only available for a limited time, it remains to be seen whether anyone will actually miss them when (and if) they’re gone.
The fries are meh at best
When it comes to fast food fry reviews, Dairy Queen fries are usually damned with faint praise. The Daily Hive called them just "okay," but rated them #9 on a list of 10 Canadian chains. The LA Times ranked DQ’s fries in the middle of the pack, 7 out of 19, but remarked that the "flavor isn’t particularly noticeable" and seemingly gave the chain a bump just because Dairy Queen also serves ice cream. A blogger on the Odyssey website, however, pulled no punches, calling the fries "soggy, lifeless [and] unseasoned."
These reviews, ranging from "meh" to "bleah," are still referring to Dairy Queen fries that are prepared as they should be, and served up relatively fresh. Numerous consumer complaints, however, attest to the fact that the fries may well be cold, stale, or even "gritty," and that you may receive far fewer of these than you expect. Although when it comes to DQ fries, perhaps fewer really isn’t such a bad thing, after all.
The fish sandwiches are bland and boring
Dairy Queen does not always offer seafood on its menu, but it does try to make sure there is a fish sandwich available during the Lenten season. Fittingly enough, these sandwiches seem to be a kind of penance in and of themselves. Business Insider has reviewed Dairy Queen fish sandwiches several times. A 2016 review called them "subpar," with a weak bun, soggy lettuce, bland tartar sauce and fish that could easily be mistaken for chicken. A more recent Business Insider review of Dairy Queen’s new Alaskan Pacific Cod sandwich was ambivalent as to whether it was or was not an improvement on DQ’s previous fishwiches. The oil-coated lettuce and excessive tartar sauce were judged to be even worse than before, but the fish itself had seemingly improved from unidentifiable to merely "not great."
Yet another review, this one posted on Reddit, characterized the Alaskan Cod sandwich as both "gross" and "smushed". The reviewer backed these claims up with photos that not only do look both gross and smushed, but do not in any way resemble the advertising photo also posted for contrast. One commenter offered the opinion that it was the OP’s fault for ordering fish from a fast food restaurant in the first place, while others remarked upon how Dairy Queen itself so often fails to fulfill expectations.
The "artisan" sandwiches are a joke
You know a food trend is, or should be, on its way out by the time it trickles down to fast food chains. In the late Oughties, suddenly every foodie was going gaga over "artisanal" this, that, and the other thing, but marketers soon found out that this buzzword was an easy way to justify jacking up the price on an item that really didn’t have to fit any specific guidelines to qualify as artisanal.
With everyone else having jumping onboard by 2015, Dairy Queen decided it might as well roll out its own "artisan" sandwich line, with results that were… well, predictable. Business Insider found the chicken bacon ranch sandwich to be soggy and overwhelmed with mayo, while the YouTube series Number Six with Cheese concurred with the sogginess verdict in its overwhelmingly underwhelmed review of Dairy Queen’s Philly cheese steak. A Trip Advisor reviewer couldn’t decide whether the chicken mozzarella or the Philly artisan sandwich was worse, reporting them to be microwave-cooked and skimpy on fillings.
At least when and if that whole food trend goes away, we won’t have to blame it on millennials. Instead, we can blame DQ and their soggy sandwiches for driving the final nail in the artisanal coffin.
The breakfast platters are coronary events waiting to happen
Ahhh, breakfast, the most important meal of the day. Jump start your day with a tasty, healthy meal sure to fill you with energy… or you could just clog up every single artery and scarf down half of your day’s recommended calories and fat right from the get-go. Good luck feeling energized to do anything but head straight back to bed after that.
If you’re down with the latter plan, then you’ll definitely want to breakfast at Dairy Queen, where the country platter fits the definition of heart attack on a plate. While Bodybuilding.com characterized the country platter with sausage as the absolute worst breakfast item on DQ’s menu, it turns out the platter with bacon is even worse. The sausage platter has 1060 calories and 38 grams of fat, while the bacon version comes in at 1150 calories and 39 fat grams. Actually, when it comes to fat alone, there’s yet another contender: the ultimate hash browns platter with bacon has just 1030 calories but an incredible, and possibly fatal, 43 grams of fat.