Last year took a lot from us. While the global coronavirus pandemic changed everything from health and safety to how we work, learn, and yes, even eat, many fast food restaurants were forced to make menu changes to stay competitive in a changing world.
For many consumers, restaurants removing favorite menu items at a time when so many suffered seemed like adding insult to injury. How could they take away Mexican Pizza at a time like this? The reality is, fast food restaurants contended with major challenges during the pandemic. Many became 100% drive thru operations — and they had to manage with an often reduced workforce and enhanced safety measures. Additionally, food distributors faced disruption, so restaurants may have had to manage changes in ingredient availability.
How do these factors translate into losing All-Day Breakfast and other standbys? Streamlining operations often meant cutting back on menu items that weren’t top performers in sales and efficiency. That means the salads that sometimes don’t get sold before they expired had to go. Or the pizza with bloated and wasteful packaging was no longer sustainable.
In 2021, we saw some of 2020’s losses come back. Potatoes returned to Taco Bell, and Spicy Chicken McNuggets were made available again — for the time being. But let’s take a look at some of the popular fast food items we lost in 2020, and find out whether you can expect to see them again sometime soon.
KFC Potato Wedges
Fries are a fast food staple, but for decades of existence, Kentucky Fried Chicken didn’t have them. KFC’s competitor Popeye’s has them, but for so many years, KFC’s available sides were mashed potatoes, cole slaw, green beans, corn, biscuits, mac and cheese, and potato wedges. That changed in 2020 when the company introduced Secret Recipe Fries.
While many fast food items removed from menus in 2020 were a result of COVID-related streamlining, potato wedges got cut for other reasons. KFC was ahead of the curve, announcing in December 2019 that the potato wedges would be removed from the menu. By June of 2020, they were gone, after a thorough market test of the new Kentucky Fried Chicken Secret Recipe Fries that took their place.
KFC doesn’t give potatoes a whole lot of room on their menu, as the chain only had mashed potatoes and the axed potato wedges on the menu before introducing Secret Recipe Fries. But perfecting the recipe for the new fries was 60 years in the making, according to KFC. The potato wedge replacement fries are in fact seasoned with KFC’s secret blend of herb and spices, then fried.
McDonald’s All Day Breakfast (in most locations)
If you’re a late riser or just crave breakfast food all day, getting the timing right for McDonald’s used to be a little stressful. You’d have to hit the drive-thru in enough time to grab a McGriddle before the restaurant switched over to the regular menu for the day. In October 2015, McDonald’s introduced an all-day breakfast menu — albeit limited — for anyone seeking an breakfast favorites outside of breakfast hours.
But in March 2020, McDonald’s temporarily stopped offering its all-day breakfast menu in an effort to streamline operations during the coronavirus pandemic. But McDonald’s plans to bring back all-day breakfast soon. McDonald’s U.S. president Joe Erlinger spoke for all day breakfast, saying, "I’ll be back."
However, not everyone wants to see all day breakfast come back: McDonald’s surveyed franchisees who overwhelmingly voted not to bring back All Day Breakfast. Without menu bloat, restaurants noticed they were able to improve the quality and speed of service, so there’s an argument for never bringing it back.
Still, all day breakfast at McDonald’s has been back in some locations, with franchisees offering limited breakfast menus all day or in some cases, until later in the day than usual. Other McDonald’s locations may return to a full all-day breakfast menu later this year as the restaurant scales back to full operations.