We’ve all learned to be skeptical of promotional images for the newest fast food items—they’re the product of studio lighting and often, non-food ingredients mixed in to make dishes more attractive. However, sometimes the finished product falls notably flat. So here are 10 times fast food didn’t meet expectations.
10. Taco Bell Nachos BellGrande
Taco Bell described the ambitious Nachos BellGrande as a stepped up version of their Nachos Supreme. They hyped up the nachos even more on their website, describing the process of sharing a platter as similar to drafting a team—they concluded that the best option is to finish the platter by yourself, forgoing the draft. “Who needs chili cheese fries and pizza when you can just have Nachos BellGrande?” That all sounds well and good, but how does the nacho platter deliver on appeal and taste? Some unattractive photos on the internet show the nachos dwarfed by a black plastic plate, topped with cheese that resembles the canned variety, and a lopsided dollop of sour cream atop lackluster looking chili and a sprinkling of chopped tomatoes. However, for the low price of $5 with a medium drink included, it may be the perfect dish for late-night customers with a hankering for a quick, easy nachos fix. Though apparently the steak version was pretty good–surprisingly tender, and adding jalapenos would give it a nice kick. But it was that neon, crayon orange nacho cheese sauce that really makes you question the whole thing.
9. Wendy’s Southwest Taco Salad
Fast food salads notoriously can be letdowns compared to the promo photos, which often feature perked up greens and fresh veggies in contrast to the wilted, less-than-fresh reality. The Wendy’s Southwest Taco Salad suffers from all these expected issues. Wendy’s advertises the dish as being “made fresh daily with Wendy’s signature lettuce blend, shredded cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, tortilla chips, and [their] famous, hearty chili.” Some photos of the actual dish uploaded online, however, reveal the reality—a platter of mostly chili and tortilla chips that dwarf the serving of wilted lettuce and a big unsightly dollop of sour cream. Despite a disappointing presentation, the simple dish has a good number of fans. The key flavor is Wendy’s famous chili, which is meaty and tomatoey, and even better with a dash of their hot chili seasoning for more of a kick. Though perhaps not a traditional taco salad flavor, the chili makes the resulting dish extra-satisfying. The rest of the ingredients contribute to a harmonious balance of flavors, with rich, creamy sour cream contrasting the meatiness, and with the chips and lettuce contributing a nice crunch. Despite this sounding like a resounding success, the real missed expectation here lies within the name. Calling it a ‘taco salad’ is a misnomer for what might be better referred to as ‘chili salad’. So if that’s what you’re looking for, Wendy’s has got you covered.
8. Domino’s Cinni Dippers
There’s a lot of love circulating online for Domino’s desserts—who can resist adding a box of gooey brownies to your standard pizza order? In 2017, the pizza chain in the UK announced the addition of their new cinnamon-y dessert to plenty of fanfare from fans of both cinnamon sugar and delivery pizza. Described as “freshly baked dough sticks dusted with cinnamon and sugar and served with a sweet icing dip,” they sound like the perfect end to a delivery pizza dinner. However, the reality is a little less rosy. A customer posted to Reddit that their order of Cinni Dippers came as essentially a pizza topped with cinnamon, rather than cut up and ready for dipping. Of course, you could cut it yourself, but that’s more work than anyone expects from a delivery pizza, and a sign of an employee who didn’t care enough about your order. Even worse, some have been delivered without the icing dip—which is the element that makes the dish. However, when it’s served correctly, many reviewers are big fans of the dessert.
7. Burger King Chili Cheese Dog
With the Chili Cheese Dog, Burger King promised to deliver a gourmet hotdog experience. Describing the new menu item as a “flame-grilled beef hot dog made with 100% beef topped with warm chili, cheddar cheese, and served on a fluffy baked bun,” the chain set expectations high. Unfortunately, the dish served to customers didn’t quite deliver, at least visually. An unsatisfied customer posted their chili cheese dog to Imgur and it looks worlds away from the promotional images, with an unattractive soggy layer of cheese enrobing a brownish sludge of chili. We don’t expect our fast food to look just like the picture, but the presentation of this hotdog was an unwelcome surprise to say the least. Though it may leave something to be desired in the looks department, fast food connoisseurs report that the hot dog tastes better than it looks. The buns are basic and while the chili is thick and meaty, it’s not very well seasoned. The hot dog though had attractive grill marks and a charred smoky flavor. Since the draw of the item is the flame-grilled aspect, we’d consider that a semi-success in introducing a fast food audience to a levelled-up version of the humble hotdog.
6. Whataburger 5-3-1
Beloved regional food chain Whataburger made waves in June of 2019 when a Chicago investment firm acquired a part of the proudly Texan company. Loyal fans in Texas were outraged at the acquisition, since the burger chain epitomizes Texas fast food– they love their Whataburger, to say the least! The chain introduced the 5-3-1 as a limited edition spin on their namesake Whataburger that combined their classic burger formula with Texas toast. The dish is defined by its unique toppings: it contains five pickles, three onion rings, and is doused in one creamy pepper sauce. The remaining ingredients include two fresh (never frozen!) American beef patties, and two slices of cheese between two slices of Texas toast. The innovative menu item was a big departure for the homebody chain, who likes to keep things simple—for more than 60 years, their namesake Whataburger has remained the same. With the addition of onion rings, they hoped to bring diehard fans the taste of one of their more popular sides encased in the familiar Whataburger package. Unfortunately, the combination of crispy onion rings, creamy sauce, and the time it takes to walk from the door to your car left many 5-3-1’s soggy, with that signature Texas toast flattened and deflated. A very homely appearance for the hometown hero.
5. Subway Meatball Sub
Subway sandwiches notoriously never look quite as good as the manicured promo photos. The sandwiches in question are generally shown with an abundance of fillings and picturesque drips of sauce and cheese. The reality most often looks like flattened bread encasing sparser fillings that melt together into an indecipherable, though tasty, mess. People still love it, though. If you have high standards for Italian food, you may nevertheless enjoy this simple indulgence at the sandwich chain. Craft the most perfect meatball sub possible with Italian bread, provolone cheese, and parmesan. Though the meatball sub is often mentioned on lists of menu items employees don’t recommend, it retains its loyal fans. If a meatball sub from the sandwich chain is your go to, here’s a tip from Reddit: ask whether the meatballs are fresh. You’ll always get a positive answer, but if your server has to check, they likely aren’t. Follow this tip and it’s unlikely you’ll encounter dried out, past-their-prime meatballs.
4. McDonald’s McMuffin
Though the McMuffin has grown to be a beloved staple of all-day breakfast, you’ll notice that it differs significantly from the promo images, which show a perfectly toasted English muffin around that beautiful round egg, melted cheese with gently dipped corners, and a lovely circle of Canadian bacon. The reality is often a more haphazard stack of rubbery ingredients. Even worse, since these sandwiches are often made quickly for an ongoing stream of new customers, many eager breakfast-seekers have received badly charred McMuffins or McMuffins missing key ingredients. Not the best start to the day! Despite these occasional missteps, the McMuffin is beloved worldwide. If you’re a true McMuffin fan, then perhaps there’s no such thing as an ugly McMuffin! In fact, the chain known for its golden arches is leaning into their less than perfect looking food. AOL Finance referenced McDonald’s advertising in 2016 and its departure from the pristine images they’d previously used to push their food. A handful of advertising slots showed the imperfect aspects of the McMuffin in action shots of the yolk breaking out of the perfect mold and the moment when the ingredients are slapped together, sending crumbs flying. Yet the sandwich looks delectable in spite of these imperfections. Advertising firm JWT predicted earlier in 2014 that food advertising would take a turn for the ugly—embracing the quirky, messy, and flawed aspects of food preparation that are a breath of fresh air in a Photoshopped, manicured world.
3. Arby’s Beef ‘n’ Cheddar
Promotional images for this Arby’s sandwich feature a puffed up onion roll and layers upon layers of sliced roast beef topped with picturesque cheddar cheese sauce and zesty red ranch. In reality, customers were served a smashed version of that lustrous onion roll with an equally lackluster serving of roast beef and cheese sauce hidden under the bun. Despite the deflated version being served up by some locations of the roast beef chain, fans still enjoy the new offering. Despite the disappointing delivery, the sandwich offers tender, juicy meat and a perfect ratio of meat to condiment that puts Arby’s high quality roast beef center stage. If you want to give it a try but don’t want to risk the expense, take advantage of the survey on Arby’s receipts that entitle the survey-taker to a free Roast Beef Sandwich or Roast Beef ‘n’ Cheddar melt. Filling out the simple survey leads to great savings. If you can get it for free, then who cares if the sandwich is soggy, right?
2. Jack in the Box Tacos
The Jack in the Box taco is iconic in its strange appeal—though it’s the chain’s most popular item, the tacos’ low quality is almost universally acknowledged, accepted, and even embraced. A pair of tacos go for a mere 99 cents at the burger chain. They’re flattened pockets of beef, cheese, lettuce, and salsa that sell like hotcakes despite their terrible reputation. Served in small paper envelopes, they’re unapologetically ugly, deep-fried from frozen so that the meat clumps in the center unappealingly. Though the discount deal is known to look a little unappetizing, people love them. One GQ writer even sang their praises, calling the Jack in the Box taco “disgusting and perfect.” He maintains a fondness for the inexpensive indulgence, as does Selena Gomez. The numbers of Americans ordering Jack in the Box tacos outpace those ordering Big Macs from McDonald’s, a powerful testament to their popularity at a mere $.50 per simple, flattened taco. The Wall Street Journal, referencing impressive sales numbers that climbed to 554 million tacos in a year, referred to them as both “a wet envelope of cat food” and “the most underrated taco of all time.” If both customer testament and sales numbers are to be believed, both are true.
1. KFC Double Down Dog
The KFC Double Down made waves when it was released in 2010, and was heralded as the most unhealthy fast food sandwich possible. It consisted of bacon, cheese, and sauce sandwiched between two pieces of fried chicken instead of bread. It became a cultural phenomenon. The unique menu offering also spread from the US to various international KFC locations, thanks to its novelty. In 2015, KFC Philippines introduced the newest iteration of the Double Down: The Double Down Dog consists of a fried chicken breast wrapped around a hot dog. The Double Down Dog was a super-limited release, with only 50 available for two days at participating locations in the Philippines, so the item was appropriately scarce for an adventurous fast food experiment. Pictures started rolling in of the dog on social media, and it looked about as messy as expected. After all, it’s a hot dog topped with ketchup, cheese, and mayo (for those going all out), atop a curved piece of fried chicken. Though it was served encased in a custom-made cardboard container, it was likely a messy snack for the lucky few who got to try it out.