Big changes you didn't know these fast food restaurants are making

If you're like most of us, you probably swing through the drive-thru at your favorite fast food joint without really thinking about what's in store for them. The sheer amount of stuff going on behind the scenes at any large chain is mind-blowing, and they're always looking for the next thing they can do to stay relevant, increase profits, become more socially or environmentally aware, or become more efficient. Sometimes, the changes they make don't affect what you see at the counter or pull out of the take-out bag. 

But sometimes, they do. There are a ton of changes on the horizon for some of the world's biggest fast food chains, and some are going to have impacts of a global scale, while others are going to completely change what you can expect in the near future. Let's talk about what you can expect to see from places like McDonald's, Arby's, Taco Bell, Chipotle, and their competition.

McDonald's has a new beef

In March of 2018, McDonald's made a huge announcement: They were switching from flash-frozen burger patties to fresh, for at least some of their burgers. According to Time, the switch is starting slowly, with the Quarter Pounders made in 3,500 locations. Over the course of 2018, most of their 14,000 total locations will be making the switch, too, and it didn't come easy.

McDonald's invested around $60 million into the supply update, and it wasn't just about sourcing the burgers. They also needed to make sure cooking the new patties wasn't going to make for longer wait times for customers, and according to Inc., consistency was another big hurdle they needed to get over. The McD's Signature Crafted burger is also getting the frozen-to-fresh treatment, and while your Big Mac still might be cooked from frozen, it's entirely possible we're getting a glimpse into the future of the Golden Arches.

McDonald's is working on new Happy Meals

Happy Meals might be the stuff of nostalgia and fond memories, but by 2022, they're going to be completely different. McDonald's made the announcement in 2018, and according to USA Today, the plan is to completely overhaul Happy Meals to contain no more than 600 calories and lower amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.

One of the first changes was to make the cheeseburger only available by special request, and they're also reducing the number of fries. Chocolate milk is getting a reduction in sugar, and water is going to become one of the standard menu options. You're also going to see new choices popping up, and while there's nothing confirmed yet, rumor has it they're looking into adding things like a kid-sized grilled chicken sandwich.

The change is a global one, and for an idea of how big a project this is going to be (and how much change you're going to see), when the announcement was made only 28 percent of Happy Meals met McDonald's new nutritional criteria.

Wendy's is introducing allergy risks

Anyone who's worked at a fast food restaurant knows just how regimented everything is. That's to ensure consistency and guarantee that a New Yorker on vacation in New Mexico is going to know exactly what they can expect to get when they pull off the highway and order their favorite to go. Sometimes, companies overhaul their procedures and in 2018, Wendy's made what could be a potentially allergy-inducing change.

According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), Wendy's changed how employees apply ketchup to some of their burgers, like the Double Stack, the kid's hamburger and cheeseburger, and the Hamburger Jr. Now, the utensil used to apply ketchup touches the mayo, and that now makes ketchup potentially dangerous for anyone with an allergy to eggs. Cross-contamination is a serious risk in any kitchen, and it just goes to show how behind-the-scenes changes can have big consequences. They now recommend asking for ketchup packets if there's a danger of any kind of allergic reaction.

McDonald's is switching up their packaging

McDonald's sells an insane amount of food, and to give you just an idea of how much we're talking, they sell around 9 million pounds of french fries each and every day. All that food means a lot of wrappers, cartons, and other packaging, and that makes it a huge deal they're going ultra-sustainable.

According to Inc., the first part of the plan is to get rid of all foam containers by the end of 2018. Then, by 2025, they say they're going to be using only packaging that's 100 percent recycled, certified sustainable, or renewable. They're even going a step further, and say that by the same year they're going to put in place a system that recycles 100 percent of customer-used packaging.

At the time of the announcement, McDonald's was only using about half recycled and sustainable packaging materials (and using about 1.5 million tons of packaging every year). Only 10 percent of locations had recycle bins, so it's safe to say there are still a ton of changes coming and they're going to hit your local McD's.

KFC is experimenting with cryptocurrency

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who invest in cryptocurrency, and those who think someone's just made it all up to pull the world's leg. But, according to Fortune, cryptocurrency might be on the verge of breaking through to the everyday world, and it's starting with KFC's Bitcoin Bucket.

The promotion makes KFC the very first restaurant to accept cryptocurrency, and that's a huge deal. The only way customers could buy the bucket was with Bitcoin, and even though it was a limited offer restricted to Canada, betting agencies are wagering there's more of this sort of thing to come. Online bookmaker Betway says (via Forbes) that their money's on McDonald's becoming the first fast food joint to regularly accept payment via cryptocurrency. While McDonald's hasn't said anything on whether or not they're working on it (and claims have been being made for some time), KFC opening the door with an experimental foray into the world of cryptocurrency seems to suggest it's a door that's only going to open wider in the future.

McDonald's is ditching straws

Straws are a pretty shocking problem when it comes to the environment, so much so that the Plastic Pollution Coalition has a movement dedicated to ending the use of plastic straws. They estimate 500,000,000 straws are used in the US every day, and these non-biodegradable straws are are doing some serious damage to the environment and to wildlife. That's what makes it so important that a high-profile, global corporation like McDonald's has announced they're getting rid of plastic straws starting in all their UK locations.

Customers are going to be getting paper straws instead, and since they're going to be behind the counter, they're going to have to ask for them. According to a statement from McDonald's UK CEO Paul Pomroy (via CNBC), that's just the start of McDonald's commitment to go plastic-free. They're also looking into getting rid of or changing plastic cup lids in the UK, and with their stance as an ally to anti-plastics groups, it's a safe bet we're going to start seeing even more changes.

Arby's and BW3 are merging

In 2017, Roark Capital Group bought Buffalo Wild Wings. The group — who already owns Arby's — paid $2.9 billion for the chicken wing chain and made it clear from the start they would be running the two chains independently under the umbrella of Inspire Brands Inc.

Just what's going to change remains to be seen, but the powers-that-be have already said the two chains are going to change to run off the same back-end technology. They're going to start operating off the same resource base and with the same business practices. A lot of that probably won't be seen by consumers, but it's entirely possible there will be some major changes that will impact the final product.

Business Insider says one of the things we're likely to see is partnership in product, and it's already started with the creation of a new sauce that's half Arby's Horsey and half BW3's Asian Zing. It's carried at both locations, and it's likely the first of many collaborations. It's also likely that Arby's will implement BW3's order-ahead technology, BW3 might get curly fries, and Arby's might start serving beer. We can only hope!

Papa John's might break into beer delivery

What's better than pizza and beer? Papa John's knows how you feel about that question, and predicting almost everyone is going to give an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the combo, they've started testing beer delivery on a very small scale.

According to VinePair, they kicked off the first stages of their experiment in April 2018. The only people who could get beer delivery right from the beginning are those living in Jefferson, Indiana, and before you wonder why they got so lucky, it's because that's where the chain first started way back in 1964. Strangely, they did deliver beer when they first started, and even though it's taken decades, they're finally revisiting it.

So, what might you be able to get with your pizza? On offer in the test market are six-packs of Coors Light, Coors Banquet, Yuengling, Miller Lite, and Dos Equis, though there's no word on what's going to happen if it's a success.

Taco Bell is overhauling training procedures

Taco Bell's menu is huge, and fans know that it changes a lot. That means keeping things consistent is a challenge, and in April 2018 they announced they were making some major changes behind the scenes to help improve consistency, communication, and training.

According to Chief Learning Officer, they're going to be investing in the technology needed to create a massive online database of everything Taco Bell. That's everything from procedures for new menu items to customer insights, on-the-job training activities, and operating procedures. Everything any Taco Bell employee  needs — no matter what their job — will be accessible from a single database, and that's a pretty big deal for a bunch of reasons.

Not only is it going to make it easier to standardize their restaurants, but they're estimating they're going to save about $2 million a year on just new-hire manuals alone. While there were a ton of technical difficulties that needed to be sorted out, it may just revolutionize the back-end of other fast food chains as the idea spreads.

Chipotle is testing drive-thru windows

There aren't too many fast food restaurants that don't have drive-thru windows, and Chipotle is one of the last holdouts. It doesn't seem like their made-to-order menu is conducive to a drive-thru, but that might be changing.

In 2017, Business Insider reported they said they had heard customers' requests and were testing drive-thru windows at one of their Ohio stores. BI adds it's likely an attempt to try to win back some of the customers they lost in the wake of their food poisoning scandals, and by winter, Business Insider was also saying there are some other things afoot. Long-time CEO Steve Ells had stepped down, and that opened the door to potentially see some other things Chipotle has always said they're never going to do. Analysts say the drive-thru is likely to stay, the menu will probably get a complete overhaul, and you'll probably see them start serving breakfast. That's a huge deal, especially considering their menu has remained almost exactly the same since they opened, even in recent years — only four items were added between 2014 and 2017.

McDonald's is giving themselves emissions goals

McDonald's has a massive green initiative that's already in the works, and it involves cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 36 percent by 2030, along with cutting 31 percent of each metric ton of packaging and food used.

So, what does all that actually mean? If they hit their goals, that's the equivalent of taking 32 million cars off the road each year, says USA Today. Most of the cuts are going to come from energy use, sourcing, beef production, and waste materials, and there are some insanely far-reaching programs in place to get them to their goal.

Those are things like sourcing from sustainable agriculture, updating restaurants with energy-efficient equipment, and LED lighting in all locations. Now, if you're wondering what that means as far as how much your local franchise is going to have to fork out — and whether or not they're going to be able to swing it — it's not going to cost them a dime beyond normal, expected yearly upgrade and maintenance expenses. It's also geared toward ultimately lowering their yearly overhead, so it's a good time to be a McDonald's franchisee.

Starbucks wants to go environmentally friendly

The world consumes a ton of coffee, and a lot of that comes from places like Starbucks. That means a ton of coffee cups, and that's led to some big problems. Because the lining of coffee cups has to be waterproof, that means they're not compostable or recyclable... but Starbucks wants to change that.

USA Today says they're sponsoring a competition offering $10 million to the person who comes up with a design for an environmentally-friendly coffee cup. They're looking for something that can be composted or recycled into something else, and that's a huge deal. At the time of the announcement, Starbucks cups were only 10 percent post-consumer recycled material, and that's just a drop in the bucket as far as being environmentally conscious goes.

It's also possible you're going to be seeing other ways Starbucks is trying to go green, and in order to encourage their customers to bring their own reusable cups, they're experimenting with implementing a surcharge for using their disposable cups. That started in London to see if it made an impact and, if it does, you're likely to see that happening at your local Starbucks — and maybe some other fast food locations, too.