Skip to content

9 Major Changes You'll See at America's Most Popular Fast-Food Chains In 2024

Things might look a little different at your favorite fast-food spot this year.

Fast-food chains might be best known for their predictable food offerings, but they don't shy away from change. Beyond expanding and tweaking their menus, these food and beverage hotspots have been streamlining their ordering processes, upgrading their technology, and rolling out creative ways to engage with customers.

Take Taco Bell, for example. In 2023, the chain launched its first fully vegan item, added digital ordering kiosks to all of its locations, and invited fans to vote on the return of a beloved discontinued item—which ended up being the Beefy Crunch Burrito.

From menu item enhancements to the deployment of technological innovations, there are numerous changes coming down the pike at some of America's most popular fast-food chains. Here are nine you could end up seeing in 2024.

Upgraded McDonald's Burgers

mcdonalds big mac burger
Patcharaporn Puttipon4289 / Shutterstock

Last April, McDonald's announced plans to upgrade its burgers by 2024. These changes include serving softer, pillowy buns, adding white onions to the beef patties for juicier, caramelized flavor, and ensuring the cheese is perfectly melted. However, these aren't the only tweaks being implemented.

In November, Chris Young, McDonald's senior director of global menu strategy, told The Wall Street Journal that the chain is making more than 50 changes to its burgers. One of these is cooking the beef patties in smaller batches for a "more uniform sear," according to the news outlet. Customers can also expect their Big Macs to have more special sauce, fresher and meltier lettuce, cheese, and pickles, as well as a brioche bun.

McDonald's released these new burgers in West Coast restaurants in early 2023 and Midwest locations last summer. The fast-food chain plans to serve the upgraded burgers at all U.S. locations by early 2024.

Big Mac vs. The Whopper: Which One Tastes Better In 2024?

Additional CosMc Test Locations

CosMc's restaurant
Scott Olson / Getty Images

The Golden Arches opened the first location of its spinoff brand CosMc's in Bolingbrook, Ill., last month. Named after CosMc, a fictional McDonald's character from the 1980s, this new small-format concept is "beverage-led" and "nostalgia-inspired," according to the fast-food chain.

CosMc's offers coffees, teas, slushes, frappes, lemonades, and other blended beverages, which can be customized with ingredients like popping boba, flavored syrups, and vitamin C shots. Customers can also order food from a limited selection of sandwiches, bites, baked goods, and soft serve treats.

Although there's only one CosMc location right now, McDonald's plans to open about 10 pilot locations, nine of which will be in the Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio metro areas of Texas, all by the end of 2024. Following these tests, the company will analyze the results for a year before deciding to expand, according to CNBC.

Redesigned Burger King locations

burger king sizzle prototype interior
Burger King

Burger King is getting a big makeover. In October, the fast-food chain revealed its new restaurant prototype called "Sizzle," which is part of the chain's "Reclaim the Flame" initiative for accelerating restaurant growth and sales. Tom Curtis, president of Burger King U.S. and Canada, noted that about half of Burger King's U.S. locations will receive the Sizzle or Garden Grill—a redesign that first rolled out in 2011—by the end of 2024.

Focused on the digital ordering experience, the upgraded restaurants feature a sleek, modern design, digital ordering kiosks, and streamlined drive-thru and pickup lanes, according to CNN. Customers will also be able to retrieve their digital orders both in-store and at the drive-thru. Burger King opened its first Sizzle locations in New Jersey and Las Vegas. Additional locations opened in Marion, N.C., and Bennington, Vt.

In November, Deborah Derby, president and CEO of Burger King franchisee Carrols Restaurant Group, shared that the company aims to install the ordering kiosks in about 250 restaurants over the next few months. Half of Carrols' remodels will feature the Sizzle upgrades, with the company remodeling about 45 locations, according to QSR Magazine.

Burger King recently announced that will acquire Carrols for about $1 billion.

 McDonald's vs. Burger King: Which Serves the Better Breakfast Burrito?

More vegetarian options at Taco Bell

Taco Bell Veggie Build-Your-Own-Cravings-Box
Taco Bell

Although non-meat options are nothing new for Taco Bell, the chain recently expanded its value offerings for vegetarian and flexitarians with the permanent addition of its Veggie Build Your-Own-Cravings Box. Available for $5.99, this meal includes a choice of one specialty item like a Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme or Cheese Quesadilla; one classic item, such as a Bean Burrito or Spicy Potato Soft Taco; one side like Cinnamon Twists or Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes; and one medium fountain drink.

The only catch with this new offering is that customers can only order it through Taco Bell's website or app.

BYO Starbucks Cups

ordering with personal starbucks cup at the drive-thru

Besides launching its winter menu, Starbucks kicked off 2024 by announcing that it will allow customers to bring their own clean personal cup to company-operated stores and participating licensed stores nationwide in the U.S. and Canada. This ordering feature is included in drive-thru, mobile, and in-café orders.

The move is part of Starbucks' effort to veer away from single-use cups and reduce its waste by 50 percent by 2030. The rollout of this initiative also made Starbucks the first national coffeehouse in the U.S. to offer this option for mobile orders. As an incentive, customers who bring their own cup will receive a 10-cent discount, while rewards members will rack up 25 bonus stars. Starbucks has offered this 10-cent discount since the 1980s.

All of Starbucks' standard cup sizes can be ordered with personal cups. The baristas will use a "new, custom beverage craft smallware" that has standardized lines for measurements.

 I Tried 7 Breakfast Sandwiches at Starbucks & There Are Only 2 I'd Get Again

AI-powered drive-thrus at Wendy's

wendy's fresh ai at the drive-thru

Over the last couple of years, fast-food chains have been deploying artificial intelligence to streamline their restaurant operations. Now, Wendy's is expanding its own AI efforts at the drive-thru.

As part of its ongoing partnership with Google Cloud, the fast-food chain has been testing an AI chatbot designed to take orders—called Wendy's FreshAI—at a drive-thru in Columbus, Ohio. According to Wendy's, this technology understands casual conversation and can handle menu customizations and configurations. Since its initial rollout in June, this technology has been added to four more locations in the Columbus market, with more in the works.

Wendy's recently announced that it plans to add the AI chatbots to more restaurants "into early 2024," sharing that it will give franchisees the opportunity to pilot the technology this year, too. The fast-food chain has yet to reveal which locations will receive this new drive-thru technology.

Shorter wait times at McDonald's

Mcdonald's drive thru

Scoring a fast-food meal is about to get even faster. In December, McDonald's shared that it will expand its U.S. pilot of "Ready on Arrival" technology across its top six markets by 2025. This technology leverages geofencing to alert employees when a mobile order customer is within three minutes of the location, signaling them to start preparing the food.

In a December investor update, Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald's U.S., reported that tests have shown a 60-second reduction in wait time.

"As a result of delivering hotter, fresher food to our customers, we've seen significantly higher customer satisfaction scores in these transactions," Erlinger said.

 McDonald's Just Dropped Its First Limited-Edition Dessert of 2024

Upgraded Domino's app & website

dominos app on phone
rafapress / Shutterstock

During an annual investor conference last month, Domino's revealed upcoming changes at the pizza chain, one being the rollout of an upgraded mobile app and website. As part of this initiative, Domino's is overhauling both digital platforms, giving them a more modern look and streamlining the navigation experience by decreasing clicks. Plus, every element of the website will be faster.

Kelly Garcia, Domino's chief technology officer, said the company will deploy these improvements gradually over the next year. The new website will then launch by the fourth quarter of 2024.

Even more fast-food locations

opening soon sign

From coffee hotspots to burger joints, numerous chains have unveiled their expansion plans for the next year—and beyond. Within the fast-casual space, Chipotle projected the addition of 285 to 315 new restaurant openings, assuming "utility, construction, permit and inspection delays do not worsen." Meanwhile, Qdoba recently announced plans to open 60 additional locations in 2024.

As one might expect, one of the most ambitious expansion plan announcements has recently come from McDonald's. In December, the fast-food chain shared plans to open 10,000 new locations over the next four years, with its goal of reaching 50,000 restaurants. According to the chain, "this will mark the fastest period of growth in company history."

Brianna Ruback
Brianna is a staff writer at Eat This, Not That! She attended Ithaca College, where she graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Communication Studies. Read more about Brianna