I never thought that talking about my love of old food would garner much attention. Boy was I wrong. I had put this post up a couple of years ago, and then took it offline when we launched The Retro Network. But just this week, two different people contacted me saying they were looking for it. How about that. Well, here it is again, and I’ll leave it up this time so all of you faithful followers can find it from now on.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, when my old man would come home each weekend from working out-of-town, he would always take the family out to eat on Friday or Saturday night. Places like Western Steer and Bonanza were frequent favorites, Pizza Hut was a rarity, and when we weren’t going to one of those places, the destination was Wendy’s. So it’s fair to say that I visited Wendy’s a lot in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what set it apart from its competition back then, and what made it stand out.
So let’s get to it, and take a look at how much Wendy’s has changed since those days, and not really for the better.
Their Commercials Are Not Near As Good As They Used to Be
So first up, let’s take a look at what brings an establishment to people’s attention, and makes them want to visit in the first place, the television commercials advertising the place or products. For years, Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas was a fixture in commercials for the chain. He looked like he could be your own grandpa, and put forth a welcoming personality that seemed to not feel like an over-produced commercial, but rather an invitation to dinner from an old friend.
These days, we get this young yuppie girl they call “Red”, where the commercials focus more on trying to be funny (and failing), or hip, and don’t do much to get a vibe across to the viewer as to the core values of the restaurant. Heck, they barely focus on the food they are promoting. With the Dave Thomas commercials, you got a little humor, but he almost always put forth his philosophy of making good, old-fashioned hamburgers. Check out this classic commercial below and see what I’m talking about.
Man, there’s something about an old Wendy’s commercial with Dave Thomas that really takes me back.
The Logo and Signs Have Changed
One change you may not have noticed is that they have dropped their old slogan of “Old-Fashioned Hamburgers” from their advertising. It’s gone from their logo now, and more and more of their location’s signs are being changed to the newer logo. This is a small change, but it’s symbolic in that they are trying to get away from their past, and what made them unique in the first place. The fresh hamburgers. They still make them like this, so why not use that fact in advertising?!?
Their Tables Inside Their Restaurants Are Boring
One of the coolest features in the old school Wendy’s locations were the tables that featured printed pages from old Sear’s catalogs from the early 1900’s. Sitting there as a kid, I would marvel at the antique products featured on the table while I chowed down on my burger and fries. Today, they’ve joined the rest of the fast-food fools by using plain-looking, boring tables. Compare the two below. Which one enhances the dining experience a little? If you said the plain one, you can just stop reading this article now.
Their New Menu Offerings Have Gone Too Hipster
Back in the day, Wendy’s was the home of great-tasting, old-fashioned, fresh hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. When they added a new menu item, it was usually a larger version of an existing item or small tweaks that were usually only available for a limited time. You could always count on the Classic Single, the Classic Double, and the Classic Triple. Want bacon on one of those? Sure, why not. I would like to believe that if you asked Dave Thomas for some avocado on your burger, he would look at you like you are a moron. Avocado doesn’t belong on an old-fashioned hamburger. Sautéed onions? Absolutely.
Today, they are always trying to hit that magic ingredient that will maybe spark a sale, when all they really need to focus on is quality burgers with quality burger condiments. A flatbread instead of a bun? Get out of here with that noise!
They Done Away With the Biggie Size
Now I’m all for health-conscious eating, but if you’re going to Wendy’s, you know what you’re in for. So why take away the iconic “Biggie” size? Those who don’t want it, don’t have to order it. But for those of us who do, it’s no longer available. Their Biggie Sweet Tea was awesome, and being able to upgrade your large fries to Biggie size should be protected under the “Freedom of Choice” provision in the United States Constitution.
Their Kid’s Meals Are No Longer Fun For Kids
A lot of the major fast-food chains are suffering from this one these days. Due to pressure from multiple organizations, the chains have relented and started changing their kid’s meals to feature healthier options. Wendy’s now features a burger or nuggets, with apple slices, and a box of juice. Now, you can still get the fries and a soda, but their advertising features the former options. They don’t even like to really advertise special tie-ins with their kid’s meals anymore. It’s extremely rare to see a cool box for the kid’s meal’s like they used to.
Look at that awesome old school kid’s meal below! A fresh Junior burger, golden fries, and a Frosty….all packaged in a cool Disney’s Gummi Bears box for maximum fun!
They Changed Their French Fries
This one sadness as much as any other on the list. I was a huge fan of their french fries for years. They were thicker than the fries at McDonald’s or Burger King, a little less crispy, but so good. They tasted like french fries we used to make at home. Being that they tasted home-made, they fit perfectly alongside their old-fashioned hamburgers.
Nowadays, they have Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt. They made the change around the time that sea salt was all the rage, and have yet to revert back. Their fries of today always taste a little burnt to me. They are thinner, the ends are crisper, and they aren’t a great tasting french fry. Add to that the fact that they don’t taste nearly as good dipped in a Frosty as their elder counterparts.
Man, that used to be the absolute best part about going to Wendy’s….dipping your french fries into your Frosty.
There Should Only Be One Flavor of Frosty
For many, many years, ordering a Frosty at Wendy’s meant you were getting a rich, chocolatey, ice cream treat. A while back, I ordered a Frosty, and the young lady at the counter asked me what flavor I wanted. I gave her what I’m sure she thought was a dumb look, and said, “I just want a Frosty.” She again asked me the flavor and had to explain to me that they are available in Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry. I politely corrected her saying, “No Ma’am, there’s only ONE flavor of Frosty, and that’s chocolate. I’m not sure what those other two things are, but if they aren’t chocolate, then they aren’t Frosties.”
Why mess with such an iconic menu item? As a kid, you hoped you went to Wendy’s because you could get a Frosty. You didn’t need multiple flavors, all you needed was a Frosty. This is just another example of how they continue to mess with the classic menu that made them successful, profitable, and famous.
They Changed the Taco Salad
On those weekends when my Dad wasn’t able to come home, my Mom and I would go out on Saturday afternoon and eat at either McDonald’s or Wendy’s. When it was Wendy’s, that meant it was Taco Salad for lunch. It’s what she like, so it’s what I got as well so we could enjoy the same thing.
The Taco Salad was unique but quite simple. You got a platter of lettuce with some diced tomatoes, a cup of their chili to pour over that, some shredded cheddar cheese and some taco sauce for topping, and a small bag of taco chips to enjoy with it. We would mix them up and talk as we ate, and I have a lot of fond memories attached to the classic Taco Salad.
So about 10 years ago, they decided to change it. No longer was there taco chips…they were replaced with tortilla strips. The pack of taco sauce was replaced with salsa. The diced tomatoes went away. Their sales of the Taco Salad also went away. Once again, they tried to “modernize” one of their menu offerings and appeal to a small segment of the market with what they considered a “fancier” version. There was never anything wrong with the original version, but they gave it the ax anyway.
They Got Rid of the SuperBar
Of all the things Wendy’s tried through the years, the Superbar may have been the best idea they had. It was a set of three food bars that expanded their dine-in options several times over and was a big hit. One bar was a salad bar, with normal salad bar options, as well as some jello and pudding for dessert. The next bar was the Mexican Fiesta bar, which had all the things you needed to make tacos and burritos. There was chili, taco meat, melted nacho cheese, hard and soft taco shells, and other goodies.
The last bar was the Pasta Bar and featured spaghetti noodles, fettuccine noodles, spaghetti sauce, alfredo sauce, and garlic bread that was made by flattening and grilling their hamburger buns with garlic salt and butter. It was delicious. You could also order a baked potato, and top it from the SuperBar. That’s what my old man did, so it’s what I done as well. We’d fill the potato with the chili and nacho cheese.
The SuperBar was our go-to order while they had it in their stores. A lot of Friday nights were spent eating from it and talking and laughing as a family before Mom would do her shopping for the week. To me, the Superbar is one of the most iconic things that comes to mind when I think of Wendy’s, and it’s a shame they ever got rid of it.
Well, there you have it. Why Wendy’s Ain’t the Same Anymore….at least in my opinion. I have a lot of nostalgic memories tied to Wendy’s, so maybe I have stronger feelings on the subject than others, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and memories as well.
More old food stuff
- Visual History of McDonald’s Clam Shell Packaging
- KFC’s Chicken Little’s From the 1980’s
- Forgotten Food: Oatmeal Swirlers
- Forgotten Food: Morning Funnies Cereal
- Forgotten Food: Dessert Foods From the ’80s and ’90s