Worst Fast Food Experiences: Soggy Fries And Cold Burgers We Can Never Forget

We return to fast food places time and time again, not necessarily because they're the greatest restaurants in the world, but because of their comforting reliability. Whether you're in Arkansas or Alaska, you can be reasonably sure that a Wendy's Baconator is going to taste exactly like how you remember it.

But of course, we don't live in an ideal world, and as much as our favorite fast food brands try to standardize the experience, our food is still being prepared by fallible humans who can make mistakes. If you're really unlucky, you might even encounter a fast food worker who's operating with outright malice. That's not to mention the chaos that can be caused by inebriated or angry fellow customers. Anyone who's eaten fast food a decent number of times probably has at least one wild or bad story.

We asked our writers to recount their worst-ever fast food experiences, and boy did they deliver. From bad food to bad service to one outright hospitalization, these are the trips to the drive-through that haunt our nightmares.

Alex Darus - A chicken-less sandwich from Wendy's

Road trips are not just a good excuse to get fast food — it's often a necessity. On one extra-long road trip from Ohio to Florida, my family and I found ourselves in the mountains of the West Virginia turnpike with an insatiable hunger. A lone Wendy's sign seemed like a light leading to reprieve, or at least, some fresh fries dipped in a Frosty. I opted for a basic Crispy Chicken Sandwich. It seemed like a safe option that wouldn't have my stomach rolling as much as the hills ahead of me on my drive. Wendy's just puts a breaded chicken patty in between two buns with lettuce and mayo in this no-nonsense entree.  

After waiting what seemed like forever to get our order, my family grabbed our bag and hit the road. Unfortunately, we were back to speeding away when I opened the foil wrapper of my sandwich to utter disappointment. Somehow, Wendy's forgot the chicken in my chicken sandwich. I was left with a mayonnaise and lettuce sandwich that was less than satisfactory. The Frosty and fries were enough to hold me over, but it did teach me the valuable lesson to always check your order before pulling out of any fast food drive-thru. 

Lauren Cahn -- Big Mac with an impact

I was five when I discovered the Big Mac, and it was glorious. Two decades later, having just graduated from NYU Law, I'd long since forsaken McDonald's in favor of budget-wise local fare like the four-dollar pastas available throughout Greenwich Village during the early '90s. But the day I finished the New York State bar exam, it was the Big Mac's siren song I heard.

I was on a Port Authority bus bound for New Jersey, where I'd grown up, and where my parents still lived. I already had a job lined up in New York City, but my parents had convinced me to sit for the Jersey exam too — in case I someday yearned to practice law in my home state. If I was going to sit through a third day of bluebook essays on obscure legal minutia, I decided, then I deserved an indulgence. Not coincidentally, my bus stop happened to be across the street from my hometown Mcdonald's.

It wasn't until the next morning that the queasiness started to hit. Somehow, I drove myself to the testing center, but I don't remember what happened next. What I'm told is that an exam proctor found me collapsed outside the ladies' room and called 911. I spent the rest of that day in the ER, where doctors diagnosed me with salmonella. It was the special sauce, they guessed.

Within a week, I'd made a full recovery. But I never did get around to taking the New Jersey bar.

Mary White - Getting Mooned in Krystal

When I was in college, Krystal was the place to go for late-night munchies after an evening of partying. After all, Krystal was known for being open 24/7 and having fast, affordable food just right for a college student's budget. My friends and I usually went to the Krystal closest to campus, but one night we found ourselves searching for food in the wee hours of the morning closer to a different location than our usual spot.

Like our usual Krystal, this location was hopping late at night, but with a different crowd that was a bit older and rowdier than we were used to. As soon as we sat down, a group of older-than-us guys started catcalling at us. The more we ignored them, the more lewd their statements became. Eventually, one particularly intoxicated guy in that group stood up and started propositioning us loudly and graphically. After we let him know that what he was suggesting was not going to happen, he stood up and said "I'll show you what you're missing." What did he do next? You guessed it! He turned around, pulled down his pants, and mooned us — right there in the Krystal. We were not impressed. I'm a little fuzzy on exactly what happened next, but I think the mooner and his friends were escorted from the restaurant.

From that day forward, we stuck with the drive-through any time we needed a late-night Krystal fix. To this day, every time I see a Krystal I instantly remember being mooned by a belligerent stranger while eating a tiny hamburger.

Amy Bell - Taco Bueno adds something extra to the burrito

It was a hot July day, and our refrigerator was on the fritz. With nothing in the fridge, we decided fast food was the easiest option. Since my husband worked near a Taco Bueno, I asked him to get carryout on his way home. I was perfectly pleased with my meal. Unfortunately, when my husband got to the last few bites at the bottom of his burrito, he bit down on something hard. Upon examination, it turned out to be a piece of plastic. Our best guess was that the top of the nozzle for a sour cream squirt bottle had fallen into his burrito! My husband was thoroughly disgusted and clearly wasn't interested in finishing his meal.

He called Taco Bueno to complain but had to leave a message because there was no answer. It wasn't until the next day that he got a phone call from a Taco Bueno representative who wanted to offer him coupons in compensation. He'd hoped for his money back — not coupons. My husband politely declined since getting a foreign object in your food will put you off a restaurant forever. I once got a Band-aid in a meal from a local Meditteranean restaurant, and my stomach churned anytime I drove by the place, so I can understand my husband's sentiments. He never went back and wasn't remotely sad when we moved to a city without a Taco Bueno (although the rest of us continue to have Taco Bueno withdrawals).

Rachel Welch - A not-so-pleasant Chick-fil-A drive-thru experience

As a celiac, gluten is my kryptonite and severely limits my food options on road trips. I hate being "that person" and always fight anxiety when asking for extra safety precautions. Thankfully, Chick-fil-A is a trusted location that generally provides safe options. We visited the one in Cordele, Georgia, and met the drive-thru attendant, Anastasia (forever burned into my memory after this experience). We began explaining that we have severe allergy needs and asked her to please note it in the order. She interrupted mid-sentence and rudely interjected, "Ugh, they know what to do." We calmly responded, "okay, we just want to make sure because gluten is a big issue for us." She rolled her eyes, typed in the order, and rushed us on our way. We circled around to pick up our safe gluten-free meal and pulled out of line. Moments later, I opened the bag to find normal, gluten-covered, fried nuggets filling the bag (cue horror music), making our meal completely unsafe and inedible.

Unfortunately, the dining room was closed, with the drive-thru, our only option. Hangry, tired, and frustrated, we re-entered the line and finally made our way to the window with a different, cranky person. In the end, we never received our correct order or an apology. It seemed that everyone there couldn't care less. Needless to say, it was not our favorite Chick-fil-A experience. Thank you to Cordele, Georgia's Chick-fil-A, and Anastasia. You gave us an experience that was absolutely not our pleasure.

Brian Boone - bad Wendy's Caesar salad (twice)

When my friends and I all got our driver's licenses, we could finally check out the fast food places beyond our remote suburb — like Wendy's. It was such a novel place, with its square burgers, baked potatoes, and how you could sub out the fries in the combo meal for something else. And so, I enthusiastically ordered a Caesar side salad to accompany my chicken nuggets.

Now, I'm still not sure what element of the salad got me sick; it could've been the lettuce, but it was probably the dressing. I should've known better than to knowingly consume warm salad dressing. Anyway, hours after my first monumental Wendy's meal, the monumental gastrointestinal symptoms began, then persisted for three days.

Almost everyone has some food poisoning story, often involving a dirty fast food joint. What makes mine exceptional is that it happened again. I actually went back to that same Wendy's a few weeks later, and inexplicably ordered a Caesar side salad. It was just so tasty, I didn't want it to be ruined for me; I refused to be controlled. Wendy's betrayed me again in the very same way with the very same menu item. I've been back to Wendy's dozens of times in the decades since, never ordering a Caesar side salad. Not because I learned my lesson — they just took that thing off the menu.

Felicia Lee - Three-hour wait for a burger at historic Louis' Lunch

I know it's mean to speak ill of the dead –- especially when the deceased is Louis' Lunch, a now-defunct Depression-era, family-owned hamburger joint beloved by generations of hungry residents of my hometown of Gainesville, Florida. And I really should have known better than to have gone there after a friend with impeccable judgment told me it had "the worst food in Gainesville."

Still, I'm a sucker for old restaurants and any place that could potentially be haunted, so when the news broke that it was closing after 82 years in business, I just had to check it out. When my hubby and I got there at lunchtime on their second-to-last day, the place was busy, but far from packed. Louis' Lunch is famous for its burgers, so we both ordered a burger and fries and waited. And waited. And waited some more. A single man -– the elderly, clearly burned-out owner -– was at the stove, working a single small skillet. And I realized with horror he was cooking every single burger individually in that one tiny pan. Our one-hour wait stretched into two, then nearly three hours. We felt too sorry for the old guy to just cancel our order, so we kept on waiting.

And when we finally got them, the burgers were bland and about half filler, exactly how burgers were made during the Depression. It wasn't fast and barely food — but I guess we were "lucky" to get an authentic taste of history.

Buffy Naillon - Ignored At the 24-Hour Drive-Through At Del Taco - Buffy Naillon

Picture it. Midnight during finals in grad school. My tummy rumbled like Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. There was no way to get through the current project (and the all-nighter required to do it) without food. Like most grad students, the fare in my fridge consisted of ketchup packs from Burger King, a half of a pack of ramen, and a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi. Since the state of my refrigerator and my ambition levels for cooking left something to be desired, I headed to Del Taco to take advantage of its 24-hour drive-through window.

I drove up to the speaker menu and waited to order. At that late hour, no one else was ahead of me or behind me in line. After about 10 or 15 minutes of radio silence on the order speaker, I concluded it might be best to drive up to the window and order directly from a live person. Once at the window, I saw people inside, chatting while they pushed mops around. One guy even turned around, looked me in the face, stared long enough for me to know he saw me, and then went back to his mop-pushing.

I'd like to tell you that I didn't stupidly wait there for another five minutes to see if someone would stop mopping and come take my order, but wait I did. I finally left with no vegetarian burrito and even less inspiration for the late-night project.