You probably don't think much about your fast-food order. Heck, you can order from a numbered menu and have your dinner handed to you through your car window within minutes, without ever stepping foot into the restaurant.
But fast food is big business (actually, supersize that claim—the industry pulls in $190 billion each year in revenue in America alone). So, of course, it comes with a lot of trade secrets.
From which fast-food chain is most likely to get your order wrong to the mystery of why McDonald's soft serve machines seem to always be on strike, here are 24 secrets fast-food chains don't necessarily want you to know.
And for more, check out these 6 Secrets Chipotle Doesn't Want You to Know.
Vegatarian options aren't always completely vegaterian
At Burger King, both plant-based Whopper patties and regular Whopper beef patties are cooked in the same broiler. The burger chain claims to do this in order to deliver the same unique flame-grilled taste fans know and love from the classic Whopper, CNBC reports. While there isn't any animal meat in the plant-based option, the oils and meat juices can end up being transferred over in the cooking process.
Drive-thru employees can see you while you're ordering
A Starbucks employee posts videos on TikTok of her customers' reactions as she sings to them when they pull up to the drive-thru. Cute, yes, but in a "candid camera" kind of way. Go straight to the comments section, and it seems a lot of people are having revelations that they're being watched while ordering. "OMG y'all can see us," one commenter wrote. "Ummm I didn't know y'all got cameras. You know how many times I roll up picking my nose," confessed another.
You'll probably spend more at the self-serve kiosk
If you order at a self-serve kiosk rather than at a drive-thru or the counter, restaurants expect that you'll spend about 20% more. The reason? The kiosks are programmed to upsell, plus customers don't feel rushed or judged when they're making their food choices.
Your Burger takes a lot less time than you think to cook
When you order a beef patty from the golden arches, it only takes a matter of seconds to cook to the chain's standards, a McDonald's employee told Reader's Digest. America's favorite fast food joint uses clam grills that are set at 750 degrees and cook a regular beef hamburger in 38 seconds and a quarter pounder in 70 seconds. It's quite a sight to see.
KFC is the most likely to mess up your order
On average, the chance a fast-food restaurant will get your drive-thru order correct is 85%, according to a study from QSR magazine, a trade publication that covers the limited-service restaurant industry. Go ahead and wag your finger at more complex menus, busier lanes, and the drive-thru emphasis on speed for the uptick in wrong orders. But the fast-food joint that's most likely to screw up your order? It's Wendy's, which had a 79% order accuracy rate. Arby's earns an A, with the highest accuracy rate, getting orders right 89% of the time.
You should double-check your dinner orders
Before you pull out of the drive-thru, peer into your bag to double-check your dinner order. The most order errors happen during the dinner rush, according to the QSR magazine's study. In fact, 20% of orders are incorrect during dinner hours, compared to 13% during the less popular, mid-morning stretch.
Chick-fil-A has the longest wait time
On average, it takes 183.67 seconds to get your Chick-fil-A order, or just over 3 minutes, according to QSR magazine's study. But, to be fair, that's because the chain is popular and has perpetually crowded drive-thru lanes. During busy times, you may spot Chick-fil-A employees standing outside with tablets to take orders and payments in an effort to speed things up.
Most fast-food joints have secret menus
Nachos at Chipotle. A patty melt at Five Guys. A coffee blizzard at Dairy Queen. Most fast-food spots have unofficial secret menus that you can order from if you're in the know. Here are 30 fast-food secret menu items. (Have you heard of the "Skittles" smoothie at Jamba Juice?) Just be prepared to explain to the employees exactly what you want, because they might not know what, say, a McBrunch Burger is.
The soft-serve machines at McDonald's are high-maintenance
You're craving a hot fudge sundae from McDonald's. But what are the chances the soft serve machine is actually working? The Wall Street Journal investigated the mysterious case of Micky D's malfunctioning McFlurry machines. Turns out, the machines probably aren't broken, but rather are in a long, laborious process of being cleaned. The soft-serve machines take up to four hours to clean, a task that needs to be done daily.
There's no ice cream at Dairy Queen
Your blizzard, cone, or parfait from Dairy Queen isn't actually ice cream! It all comes down to a dairy technicality. DQ's soft-serve has just 5% milkfat content. To be considered ice cream, a product must have at least 10% milkfat, according to the FDA.
This isn't something Dairy Queen is hiding. The chain, on its website, explains in the FAQ section: "Technically, our soft-serve does not qualify to be called ice cream."
Your fry sleeve could be coated in toxic chemicals
The grease-repelling paper your burger is wrapped in or the sleeve containing your French fries could be treated with perfluorinated chemicals. These fluorine-based chemicals are associated with cancer, fertility issues, weakened immune system, and low birth weights, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The researchers tested a sample of 400 containers and wrappers from fast-food chains and found that 56% of dessert and bread wrappers, 38% of sandwich and burger wrappers, and 20% of French fry sleeves contained fluorine.
Cinnabon bakes brown sugar to entice customers
Ah, the scentscape of a mall, from the cologne spritzes wafting through Hollister to the sweet smell of Cinnabon lingering in the food court. As it turns out, some Cinnabon stores will warm up baking sheets sprinkled with cinnamon and brown sugar to keep the sweet aroma in the air. Some malls, though, have "aroma restrictions" in place that limits where Cinnabon can set up.
You can make Chick-Fil-A sauce at home—sort of
The beloved sauce is a blend of ranch, barbecue sauce, and honey mustard. But Chick-Fil-A isn't spilling on the exact ratio it uses to make its signature sauce.
Burgers contain meat from multiple cattle
A typical fast-food hamburger contains meat from not just dozens, but possibly hundreds of cattle, according to Fast Food Nation, written by journalist Eric Schlosser. McDonald's confirms that in the blending process, the chain does mix beef from different delivery batches and the resulting burgers could very well be made up of the meat from more than 100 cattle.
Fast-food flavors are manufactured
Fast food is so highly processed that the flavor in your burgers and nuggets is often destroyed, explains Fast Food Nation. To make up for this, the tastes and aromas of fast food items are often manufactured at special chemical plants in New Jersey.
Don't ask for 'extra'
As soon as you ask for "extra," you've said the magic word for employees to ring in an additional charge. Instead, try saying something like "a little more, please" when an employee is preparing your burrito bowl, suggests The Deal Guy on YouTube. BTW, Chipotle is on to you.
You can customize your order
Another way to hack fast-food menus is to customize your meal by requesting ingredients like toppings or sauces for free, says Alex Lenhoff, founder of FastFoodNutrition.org. "Sometimes you can add free ingredients to a cheaper item to make it almost identical to a more expensive item. So go ahead, ask for that lettuce, tomato, and mayo. If you're so bold, see if they'll switch out your bun for a premium one."
There's a reason employees will ask you to 'pull forward'
Fast-food employees have revealed that they are timed on how long it takes them to complete orders in the drive-thru line. So, if you've ever been asked to "pull forward" and they say they'll run your order out, it could be that they're trying to outsmart the timer so it appears you've been served faster than you actually were.
You may get served day-old food items
It's not uncommon for expiration dates for ingredients vary, but at some fast food chains, meal components can also carry over to the next day or two to be served to customers. A majority of Taco Bell's meal items can be used within a couple of days, as long as they're reheated, they can be sold, employees share to Reader's Digest.
KFC's secret recipe is not a secret anymore.
KFC has kept its mix of 11 herbs and spices closely guarded. But a Chicago Tribune reporter was shown a handwritten list of 11 herbs and spices from a Sanders family scrapbook. White pepper is the surprise ingredient on the list, and some of the other spices and herbs include thyme, basil, dried mustard, and paprika.
Ice could contain fecal bacteria
Ice machines, as it turns out, are prone to microbial contamination. Biofilms can establish themselves, protecting the build-up of bacteria, Food Safety Magazine explains. Listeria can be 1,000 times harder to eliminate if it is protected by one of these biofilms. One report found fecal coliforms in ice served at McDonald's, KFC, and Burger King locations in the U.K.
Sonic's onion rings are slightly sweet
Have you ever noticed that Sonic's onion rings are a tad sweet? It's because the batter is prepared in vats that carry vanilla, according to The Daily Meal. In fact, if you want to make a copycat recipe at home, you'll want to melt some vanilla ice cream, according to CopyKat's instructions. (The recipe creator says she worked at Sonic as a teenager and claims that vanilla ice milk is the secret ingredient.)
The grill marks are phony
Your fast-food burger probably doesn't look as good IRL as it did in the commercials. Fast-food chains will put fake grill marks on burgers as a way to convince you that your meal was specially prepared rather than mass-produced.
Some of McDonald's and Burger King's food is made by the same company
When it comes to burger battles, McDonald's and Burger King are said to be rivals. But, we'll let you in on a little-known secret: OSI is a private company that's one of McDonald's biggest meat suppliers, having provided Micky D's with meat for more than five decades. The company makes McDonald's Chicken McNuggets and burgers. The Illinois-based company also supplies plant-based meat to Burger King. Crazy, right?
Do any of these fast food secrets surprise you? Might make you wonder what else happens in the kitchen while you're waiting in the drive-thru.